Executive Summary


  • The population of Western North Carolina (WNC) continues to grow, but the growth since 2000 has slowed compared to the growth during the previous ten-year period. Much of the population increase since 1990 is the result of migration from other parts of the country to WNC, particularly from 1990-2000.
  • Since 1990, the population in WNC has grown at a slower rate than the state of North Carolina, but at a faster rate than the U.S. as a whole. Every county in WNC is estimated to continue growing through 2030.
  • There are more women than men in WNC at any given point in time. This follows the distribution of sex typical at the state and national levels of analysis.
  • Since 1990, the race and ethnicity minority populations in WNC have increased. This trend is particularly evident between 1990 and 2000 when both the Hispanic/Latino and Asian American/Pacific Islander populations grew significantly. As of 2010, Hispanics/Latinos are the largest minority in WNC, followed by blacks.
  • From 1990-2010 the growth in the number of people 65 years of age and older is at least partially due to retirement in-migration. Although almost all counties in WNC will experience an increase of at least double their 65 years and older age group by 2030, the rate of growth is likely to slow.
  • Since 1990, the growth rate in the unmarried population has remained relatively consistent in WNC, the state, and the country. During the 2000-2010 time period, growth of the married population in WNC decreased to a rate closer to that in the nation.


  • Compared to five years ago, the percentage of respondents who report working full or part time has increased and is roughly equivalent to the percentage reported in our poll ten years ago. However, a higher percentage of respondents report they are unemployed, laid off, or looking for work compared to previous regional outlook polls.
  • The majority of working respondents said they worry about the possibility of losing their jobs, indicating a trend of increased perceived job instability since 2003. However, level of job satisfaction continues to be high; at roughly the same level as five years ago and somewhat higher than ten years ago.
  • The median household income category in our sample is close to the median household incomes in the state and the nation; however, the median household income at both the state and national level has decreased in recent years to reflect the recent economic recession.
  • Compared to five years ago, fewer respondents report they own their place of residence and more respondents report they are living with family or friends without contributing to rent or mortgage payments.
  • About half of respondents view their household financial circumstances as unchanged over the past year, but slightly more respondents view their household finances as worse off compared to respondents five years ago.
  • When asked to compare their household financial circumstances with other households in WNC, the state, and the nation, many respondents report their financial circumstances as “about the same.” However, respondents are more likely to see themselves as “better off” compared to other households in WNC and “worse off” compared to other households in the nation.
  • Roughly the same percentage of respondents report having some type of health care coverage as in 2003 and 2008. Compared to five years ago, notably more respondents report they are paying for health care out of pocket (i.e., using their own or household income).
  • Most respondents report they are satisfied with health care in WNC; level of satisfaction with regional health care is roughly the same as it was five years ago and has increased since 2003. In the area where they live, respondents view health care services as available, high quality, and offered with a variety of options. However, more than half the sample disagree that health care is affordable.
  • The average level of stress reported by our respondents was higher than that reported just five years ago. In spite of this, most respondents report having at least good, if not excellent, physical and mental health; better than that of most people their age.
  • The plurality of respondents report being at least satisfied with their life at the present time; just slightly less satisfied than five years ago.
  • When presented with a series of regional issues, respondents consider education to be the most important issue facing WNC.
  • Respondents are fairly satisfied with education in the region. They express the highest levels of support for higher education, followed by primary education and then secondary education. Only around a third of respondents agree or strongly agree that higher education in the region is affordable for people like them.
  • The majority of respondents support land use planning; policies restricting ridge top and steep slope development are supported by more than half of respondents.
  • Political partisanship and political ideology do not line up as neatly in WNC as they do in the rest of the nation. The plurality of respondents self-identify as conservative and Democrat.
  • Respondents reported low levels of trust in government institutions, with the national government receiving the lowest marks, followed by the state legislature, local government, and finally, the governor.


  • The economy of North Carolina grew faster than the U.S. economy in 2012. Nationally, North Carolina ranked ninth in gross domestic product and eleventh in gross state product growth rate in 2012.
  • Western North Carolina’s economy was estimated to grow by 1.08 percent in 2011 and 1.26
    percent in 2012, which is higher than the -0.73 percent growth that occurred in 2010.
  • In 2012, the top three industries in WNC were manufacturing (28 percent), finance/insurance/real estate (16 percent), and services (15 percent). Manufacturing accounted for more than one-quarter of total production.
  • Per capita personal income in North Carolina was $25,256, which was 90.5 percent of the national average during 2007-2011. Comparatively, the regional per capita personal income in the AdvantageWest region was $21,430, which was lower than the statewide average and only 76.8 percent of the national average.
  • Median household income in the state of North Carolina was $46,291. In the AdvantageWest region, median household income during 2007-2011 was $38,149, which was 82.5 percent of the statewide average. It was the lowest median household income in the seven regions of the state.
  • Income disparities across the state persist as poverty increases. In 2010, the average U.S. and state poverty rates were 15.1 percent. During 2007-2011, the percentage of people in the region living below the poverty level was 17.3 percent, slightly higher than the statewide average of 16.1 percent.
  • Since 1970, the percentage increase in total employment over each ten-year period declined from 29.8 percent growth to -0.2 percent growth in 2010.
  • In the private, nonfarm sector, the manufacturing industry lost a significant number of jobs between 1990 and 2010. Approximately 50.6 percent of the jobs in the manufacturing industry were lost between 2000 and 2010.
  • Between 2000 and 2010, most new job creation occurred in the real estate and education sectors. The real estate sector experienced about a 58.8 percent increase in new jobs, while the education sector experienced about a 66.6 percent increase.
  • In terms of location quotient (LQ) in WNC, the top five employment-share industries are mining (LQ = 1.44), utilities (LQ = 1.39), construction (LQ = 1.33), real estate and rental (LQ = 1.23), and health and social services (LQ = 1.22).
  • The information industry (whose employment multiplier is 2.24) has the largest indirect effects on the economy, followed by utilities (2.18) and the finance and insurance industry (2.15).
  • Over a 40-year span, the number of housing units in both the state and the region steadily increased.

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