Regions: West – Mellow mountains

 In January 2016, Regions

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It has been 15 years since Rolling Stone called Asheville the “freak capital of the U.S.,” so the secret of the city’s charm is old news. But more than ever, the beer lovers and free spirits drawn by Asheville’s fervor need substantial financial firepower if they want to own a home in western North Carolina’s hotbed. The number of Buncombe County homes for sale in December was at a 10-year low, with the average asking price topping $530,000, says Dan Davies, who has tracked the real- estate market for decades. To be sure, the average is skewed by high-priced villas that don’t sell as quickly as those costing $300,000 or less. But more than 350 homes priced at $500,000 or more — with an average price of $944,000 — traded hands last year, a 150% increase from 2011.

Home sales are soaring because no other city in North Carolina may enjoy the international creative buzz of Asheville, which is increasingly beloved in the arts world, farm-to-table culinary circles and, most of all, the craft-brewing industry. Pretty heady stuff for a city of 80,000 in a county of about 250,000, but “Asheville lives large,” says Kit Cramer, CEO of the regional chamber of commerce. Her bullishness is borne out by the city’s success attracting new jobs, along with four cranes now hanging over downtown in a spate of hotel building. An economic-development plan hatched in 2010 hoped to add 5,000 positions over five years. By 2015, the chamber counted 6,385 new jobs, including expansions by Linamar and General Electric. Capital investments, which had averaged less than $40 million a year, are now running in the $200 million range.

Asheville’s popularity is creating a pricier, more congested place that squeezes some people of lesser means and pressures the artistic vibe that makes the city special. Housing costs are the highest among North Carolina’s biggest cities, with median sales prices increasing by more than 35% over the last five years, according to research company RealtyTrac. Meanwhile, average household income is about 4% less than the state average, according to the chamber’s website. Per capita income for area workers was flat over the last decade when adjusted for inflation, federal statistics show. “With unemployment incredibly low [at 4.1% in October],” says Cramer, “we’re now looking to raise wages.” If that happens, it may be appropriate to raise a toast to Asheville’s beer business, which will be joined this year by Fort Collins, Colo.-based New Belgium Brewing’s East Coast facility.


RUTHERFORD COUNTY — Mountain View, Calif.-based Google will buy energy credits to help power its Lenoir data center from a 61-megawatt solar farm Duke Energy plans here. It’s part of Duke’s Green Source Rider plan in which large customers  agree to purchase renewable energy at a premium rate. The solar developer is Santa Monica, Calif.-based Cypress Creek Renewables.

WEAVERVILLEArvato Entertainment will close its local compact-disc and DVD production plant
by
Feb. 5, idling 112 workers. The company is a division of Gutersloh, Germany-based Arvato, which employs more than 63,000 people in 35 countries. A separate call center will remain open.

FRANKLINEntegra Financial will buy Waynesville-based Oldtown Bank, which has one branch and  $113 million in assets, for about  $13.5 million in cash. Entegra, based here and previously called Macon Bank, will have $1.1 billion in assets when the deal closes, expected to be in the first quarter. The bank also acquired two branches from Arthur State Bank in South Carolina in December, giving it 14 in total.

ASHEVILLEParsec Financial named Rick Manske chief executive
officer. Manske has worked for the investment-management group since 1996. William Hansen, a Parsec employee since 2003, will become chief financial officer and chief information officer. Based here with offices in Charlotte and Southern Pines, Parsec manages about $1.6 billion.

West region — The ski industry generated an economic impact of $197.2 million in the 2014-15 season, a 35% increase over 2009-10, according to a report by Boulder, Colo.-based RRC Associates. More than 650,000 people visited the state’s six ski areas during the season, which runs from November through March.

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