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Building ramps up in county

Building activity in Henderson County has ramped up across the board over the past eight months.

The county Permit Center issued 15 residential building permits in February, and has issued 286 since last July 1 — 62 percent ahead of the same eight-month period in 2011-12. In fact, five months into the county fiscal year that ends June 30, the building permits showed construction gains in every category but one. February totals, year-to-date totals and year-to-date percent compared with the previous year were:
• Residential additions and remodeling, February 15, YTD 390, up 15 percent.
• New commercial, 0, 35, up 15 percent.
• Commercial additions and remodeling, 22, YTD 162, up 27.6 percent.
• Electrical, mechanical and plumbing, 238, YTD 2,449, up 24.3 percent.
• Mobile homes, 17, YTD 94, 28.8 percent.
New construction value in February was $2.9 million for homes and apartments. Year to date, contractors have pulled permits for $40.5 million worth of residential construction, up 25 percent; and $18.3 million worth of commercial work, up 40.2 percent.
The surge in construction over the past 14 months has included big projects like the Sierra Nevada brewery, public projects like the Fletcher Town Hall, home remodeling and retail space upgrades.
"It's going a lot better," said Andrew Riddle, vice president of Riddle Construction. "We're doing Moe's Barbecue on Main Street. We're going to remodel Shelley's Jewelry. We've got a new house coming up. We've got three good-sized remodels, and we're looking at two commercial jobs."
The company, which does a mix of residential and residential work, has seen increases in both areas. The turnaround has allowed contractors to rehire some of the workforce they lost after the bottom fell out of residential construction in 2007-08.
"I will tell you that in September of 2008 our volume dropped about 70 percent," Riddle said. "It's never going to be like it was in 2006, '07 and '08 but I don't think it ever needs to be like that. It was out of control. We've picked up about 30 percent."
The February gains in construction appeared to sustain the momentum from 2012. The 2012 numbers from the county Permit Center showed gains over 2011 of 82.6 percent for new houses and apartments, 8 percent for residential additions and remodeling, 66.7 percent for new commercial and 20 percent for commercial additions and remodels. Overall, construction value of $34.5 million came in 9.2 percent ahead of 2011.
"Overall, just seeing businesses move here and our county commissioners being pro-active in recruiting businesses is refreshing to see," Riddle said.
Henderson County is moving to make building permits even easier to get.
Commissioner Grady Hawkins spearheaded an effort to establish a special board to identify impediments to business growth. The Board of Commissioners is taking applications for the board seats now.
County Manager Steve Wyatt hired John Mitchell, the Asheville-based field representative for U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, as a business development manager with authority over the Planning Department.
Mitchell will work with existing business, the Partnership for Economic Development and other organizations "to grow business and to make Henderson County the most attractive and business friendly county in the state of North Carolina," Wyatt said.