I moved to Asheville from Durango, Colorado nearly three years ago. I was enticed by the cool mountains, access to the outdoors, and indescribable Asheville culture.
One of my main reasons for moving here was to attend UNC Asheville’s Master of Liberal Arts and Sciences program, which I graduated from in May. Since living in Asheville, I have worked many jobs, including server, delivery driver, adventure therapy mentor, and most recently, communications liaison.
Sarah and Tony invited me to write this blog post to highlight my experience as a young professional trying to “make it” in Asheville. They told me that when they decided to move here from Brooklyn, every Ashevillain they met told them they’d better bring their own jobs.
Perhaps you’ve heard this advice, too.
At first, they didn’t understand it. Asheville’s such an amazing town full of breweries, artists, restaurants, and independent stores—how could there not be an abundance of great jobs?
I set out to determine if the myth that Asheville is only lucrative for those working in the healthcare and hospitality industries was true by talking to a few of those making a living here.
My findings were mixed. While Asheville is a tight job market, I identified plenty of flourishing business sectors in town employing residents. To help with my research, I interviewed locals and experts in business and technology.
We have tech jobs.
Asheville is home to a burgeoning tech sector comprised of businesses like AVL Technologies, Immedion, Anthroware, Geriatric Practice Management, and the soon-to-arrive Charles Edward Industries. Plus, A-B Tech Community College is training a tech-savvy workforce right here in WNC with programs in web development, GIS, and systems security.
When I spoke with Steve Newman, Director of Sales at Immedion and Board Chair of Meet the Geeks, a local IT networking group, he said there are more open IT positions in WNC than there are skilled professionals to fill them. A major reason for this is the region’s underpaid IT market. Most WNC-based businesses don’t generate as much revenue as other regional or national businesses do, so IT salaries are lower here than in cities like Charlotte and Raleigh.
Though Asheville tech jobs may pay less, according to Venture Asheville’s Director, Jeffrey Kaplan, Asheville’s postings are up 15%, while Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham, and Greensboro are continuously seeing tech jobs decrease by 15-37.5%.
Newman says that although there are many Asheville tech jobs that pay competitively, it’s hard for locals and prospective residents to pass up an extra $1,000 a month salary that a bigger city would offer. But, he speculates that the rise in remote work could allow local IT professionals to make a national average wage while living in Asheville—a trend that is positive for those living here but doesn’t support local businesses who can’t afford to match national salaries.
According to Newman, “These are the pain points of developing a community. We’re parsecs ahead of where we were before Venture Asheville and Hatch AVL hit the scene.” He points to their work and the work of Mountain BizWorks and the Mountain Areas Workforce Development Board (part of the Land of Sky Regional Council) as helping to grow a robust and successful tech scene in Asheville.
We have manufacturing jobs.
Chris Buehler is the Chief Operating Officer for FernLeaf Interactive, an Asheville-based firm that provides software tools and consulting services to help communities develop resilience solutions. He is an advisor with Start100, a Charlotte-based accelerator that provides funding, coaching, and mentoring for budding entrepreneurs. He also serves on the board of Hatch AVL and Meet the Geeks, and as a mentor with Venture Asheville. Buehler’s career spans fields from aerospace and defense to wireless communications and wearable technology.
According to Buehler, Asheville’s job market is more competitive for residents who are further along in their careers because there are a lot of seasoned professionals who have relocated to the area and aren’t yet ready to retire. He says these people move to Asheville for the lifestyle, but continue to coach or consult their clients outside of the area.
Chris Buehler, Chief Operating Officer for FernLeaf Interactive, an advisor with Start100, a board member of Hatch AVL, and a mentor with Venture Asheville, says Asheville is great for those early in their careers. Photo courtesy Chris Buehler.
Buehler says he thinks Asheville’s job market is “reasonably good” for job seekers in the early stages of their careers. He points to the abundance of manufacturing jobs in the region as evidence of a flourishing industry. Multinational manufacturing companies such as Linamar, Eaton, BorgWarner, ThermoFisher, and Kearfott all have satellite locations in the Asheville region and are often hiring.
However, there’s a disconnect between these companies and the Asheville job market. For starters, these companies rarely advertise their jobs in local publications or on local job boards. Buehler says that because of their size and reach, these companies may have the perception that job seekers will find them, and therefore they only post jobs on their websites.
How important is networking?
I asked Buehler how important he thinks networking is for landing the ideal job. He says that networking is always important, regardless of the stage of your career. “You need to continually tend to your network as you tend to your garden. It doesn’t matter what season you’re in, there’s always something you can be doing.”
Buehler recommends using your LinkedIn and your personal network to get introduced to companies. During the introduction, he says it’s important you let these companies know what you’re good at, what you’re interested in doing, what stage of your professional development you’re in, and your education level.
Asheville’s size can be advantageous. Because it isn’t that big of a job market, Buehler says it’s fairly easy to get networked into the sector or company of your choice. It’s an open community, and people aren’t going to protect their networks like they might in bigger cities. People here are very willing to make introductions and offer their advice on a company or industry, he says.
Buehler says the benefit of having seasoned professionals working in Asheville is that they spend their money here, which indirectly supports job growth. However, if these older professionals moved here with a job, they most likely cater to clients outside of the region. This robs the community of their expertise, experience, and professional network, he says.
When I asked Buehler if he thought Asheville’s salaries are on par with the city’s cost of living, he said they generally aren’t. He points out that salaries here are lower than the national average, whereas the cost of living is nearly equivalent. In Asheville, the Fair Market Rent (FMR) for a two-bedroom apartment is $336 higher than the state’s FMR. An individual would have to make $24 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment in the city.
“A big mission that a lot of us have in professional groups like Hatch and Venture Asheville is to see salary levels outpace the cost of living [in Asheville],” Buehler says.
Bring your own job.
While Newman, Kaplan, and Buehler are optimistic about Asheville’s job market, others aren’t as sold.
Andrew Polich is a teaching assistant and graduate student at Lenoir Rhyne University’s Sustainability Studies program. Polich says he worked in government relations and international affairs in Washington D.C. before moving to Asheville in 2018 to be closer to his family. When he moved to D.C., he didn’t know a soul. But within days, he landed an internship for former Representative Jay Inslee (D-WA) on Capitol Hill and began brushing shoulders with diplomats, politicians, and movie stars.
In the last two years, he says he has worked as a landscaper, a house and pet sitter, a host at the Black Mountain Ale House, a construction worker, a blogger, a social media coordinator for a documentary, and an outreach manager for a local nonprofit.
Polich’s advice is to bring your own job if you plan on moving to Asheville. If you’re already here, he recommends finding your side hustle and enjoying the lifestyle. “Take advantage of what Asheville has to offer—the outdoors and beer. If you want to rocket launch professionally, consider moving to the big city.”
Or start your own job.
Sarah and Tony told me that they started their own podcasting and marketing company because there weren’t any local jobs that appealed to them. They wanted to add value to their new community without compromising their skills and integrity—and they needed to get paid enough to live here.
If you decide to start your own business in Asheville, the good news is there’s an abundance of local business resources to take advantage of. Here’s a condensed list:
- Venture Asheville
- Mountain BizWorks
- Hatch AVL
- SCORE Mentors
- A-B Tech’s Business Incubator and Small Business Center
- Asheville’s Small Business and Technology Development Center (SBTDC)
- One Million Cups (Buehler recommends this platform for networking)
- OnTrack WNC
- Self-Help Credit Union
What do you think about the job market in Asheville? Let us know by emailing email@example.com or DM us on Instagram @makingitinasheville.
Mickey Snowdon is Communications Liaison at The Collider and a local freelance writer.