Economy looking up in Haywood County

By Caroline Klapper | Dec 03, 2012

Like a person who’s trying to shed those last few pounds, the economy is taking a long time to rebound from the aptly named “Great Recession” that began five years ago.

However, even though signs of real improvement have been slow to appear, there does seem to be a slight uptick in the local economy. In Haywood County, many businesses are reporting a good fall season and a promising start to the Christmas season.

“The fall season has been exceptional. We have been wonderfully pleased with the fall and both festivals,” said Buffy Phillips, director of the Downtown Waynesville Association, referring to the Church Street Art and Craft show and the Apple Harvest Festival, both held in October. “The merchants were happy, the buyers were happy and there were large crowds.”

While the economy is still slower than people would like, Phillips said there are definite signs of improvement.

“The (owners) that I have spoken with, they have all increased percentages over last year. I know the fall season has been exceptional,” she said, adding that the autumn leaves had good color and the weather has been beautiful. “I think the economy is a little better. It’s been a gradual increase, but one that we welcome.”

Although a two businesses in downtown Waynesville closed this fall, neither

seemed to be shutting their doors because of the economy.

A construction contractor closed, but Phillips said he chose to move because most of his business was out of town. The other business that closed recently was Fun Things, Etc., a toy store on Main Street. However, the owner, Denise Teague, said she decided to close because she wanted to spend more time with her family.

Both spaces have already been bought or leased, Phillips said, which shows that people still want to invest in downtown Waynesville.

Maggie Valley

In Maggie Valley, arguably the most tourism-dependent town in the county, Planning Director Nathan Clark sounds cautiously optimistic about the future. Since Maggie is a deeply seasonal place, with the majority of its visitors stopping through in summer and fall, Clark stressed that it's hard to give any absolutes about its economic outlook at this time of year. But he definitely sees some reasons for hope.

"I would say that our entrepreneurial community is alive and well and growling with each day," he said.

While much of it will be in hibernation over the winter, come spring Clark knows of a new motorcycle apparel shop opening and a currently closed motel coming back to life with a new owner. Other highlights for next year include a new season at Ghost Town in the Sky, the long-closed amusement park that had a modest reopening this year, and the possible addition of a robotics company downtown.

Wheels Through Time will bring national attention to the town with a featured segment on the RFD-TV show Small Town, Big Deal."

More positivity could come through "Moving Maggie Forward," an effort to create a business plan, recently launched and heavily endorsed by Mayor Ron DeSimone.

All this makes for a lot of possibility, even though Maggie's economy is definitely still finding its footing.

"We're seeing signs of recovery," Clark said, "but it's always a quicker fall to the bottom than a rise to the top."

Holiday outlook

Of course, one of the big economic indicators for any retail business, big or small, is the Christmas shopping season, and there is some positive news there, too.

“I think we’re definitely off to a good start,” said Haywood County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director CeCe Hipps. “So far, so good.”

Black Friday and Small Business Saturday were well promoted by the big box stores and small local business, and people seemed to be out shopping in force.

“I heard it went very well,” Hipps said. “I think all of the merchants, not just in Waynesville, but in Maggie Valley, Canton and Clyde, too, I think they do a really good job of drawing people into their stores.”

The good weather throughout the fall and on Black Friday weekend played a role in attracting shoppers as well, Hipps said. On nice weekends with good weather more visitors tend to come through to do some shopping.

She said she thinks the good weather also has something to do with another interesting development — an increase in the number of people wanting to relocate to the area.

“Here at the Chamber, we have noticed a dramatic increase in the number of people coming in telling us they are going to relocate here and wanting relocation information,” she said, adding that this time last year, relocation inquiries were at a slow trickle. “Those are very good indications.”

Uptick in housing sales

Those relocation increases might have something to do with the steady improvement in the local real estate market.

According to a Homes Sold Report for Haywood County, a total of 486 homes were sold from Jan. 1 to Nov. 28 of 2011. During that same time span in 2012, a total of 651 homes were sold, for an increase of almost 34 percent.

“It indicates two things to me,” said Haywood County Board of Realtors President Billy Case. “It shows that the market has pretty much corrected to a value that consumers feel comfortable with. We’re always looking at consumer confidence. Apparently people now have the confidence that the prices are not going to continue to fall. The other thing is that the prices have come down now to where the houses are more affordable.”

Currently, the inventory of existing homes on the market is down to about 18 months, and Case said if sales continue at the same rate in the coming months, that inventory will  drop to one year by the spring.

“When you get to six months, that’s actually a shortage,” Case explained.

The good news about decreasing inventory on the real estate market is that as the number of available homes decreases, people will want to start building new homes again.

“That’s good news for the construction industry,” Case said. “Predictions are showing that 2013 will be a recovery year, and we’re already seeing that in areas like Charlotte and Raleigh.”

Case said he expects to see sales of land improving in the next year as people prepare to start building again, which is another sign of economic improvement for Haywood County.

Reporter Stina Sieg contributed to this story.

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