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Drake Software CEO Phil Drake is taking the tough economic times with ease.

He believes he can get through the recession without closing any businesses or laying anyone of his employees off. With 500 employees, Drake is the second largest employer in Macon County.

“Overall our business is up, especially in software,” Drake said.

Drake pays out about $16 million in payroll and benefits annually.

“I really want Franklin and Western North Carolina to be a player when our kids grow up. I don’t want them to have to leave home to find a good job.”

Being responsible for so many employees’ livelihoods, Drake said he has some “trepidation.”

“There’s a huge responsibility in making payroll every Friday,” Drake said.

Other than his own businesses he also worries about the country.

“Our country has some dangerous times ahead,” he said. “Our country has got to stop spending more money than it has.”

Other than the software company, Drake has built a small business empire across Macon County: an Athlete’s Foot, Christian bookstore, a print shop, 9-hole golf course, a Microtel franchise, the Fun Factory, a marketing company, Internet service provider, a Christian radio station, construction company and a Verizon store.

And on July 3 he will open his 1,500-seat performing arts center in Macon County with the Oak Ridge Boys kicking it off. Charlie Daniels will also play at the center soon after, he said.

Out of all his businesses, his software company is the most profitable. Of his 500 employees, 300 of them work in the software side, he said.

“The software business is great,” Drake said. “I write tax software for accountants. That business is recession proof. People have to file income tax returns no matter what.”

Drake said his software business is up 14 percent this year. He said 30,000 accountants use his software, and his product does 10 million tax returns a year.

Business is up because, “We have a real good sales team and God has put me in a good place,” he said.

All of Drake’s other businesses are down, he said, adding that they started going south in September when gas hit $4 a gallon.

For instance, the Fun Factory isn’t on people’s priority list these days as they struggle to buy groceries and pay bills.

Drake may cut back on part-time high school workers at The Fun Factory.

Likewise, employees for his construction company have seen less work because of the slowdown, but there have been no permanent layoffs, Drake said.

“There have been weeks where there hasn’t been work to do,” Drake said.

Business will pick back up some when the weather improves, Drake said, noting that there is always a slowdown during the winter months when tourists aren’t here.

Tourism will be down this summer, he predicts, but he can’t foresee how much. Hopefully his performing arts center will draw people to the area, and people who would normally make long summer trips may stay in the region this year, he said.

By the summer of 2010 he thinks the local economy will rebound.

“I think we are very near the bottom,” Drake said of the national economy.

 

WNC not hit as hard

Western North Carolina hasn’t been hammered as hard by the recession as other parts of the country like Washington state, which has seen Microsoft lay off 5,000 workers, New York or Detroit, which is hurting from the automobile decline, Drake said.

Jobs in the area are not dependent on GM, Wall Street and other industries taking a big hit, Drake said.

“I don’t think the recession has hurt us too much. If we have a big impact it’s less tourism,” he said. “Most people still have a job, most people are still making the same amount they were making. Gas prices are down now.”

Seattle could be a tough job market now with 5,000 Microsoft employees looking for a job, he said.

“Those types of layoffs haven’t hit Western North Carolina,” Drake said.

Also, there hasn’t been as much subprime lending here compared to the rest of the country, he said.

Unlike Dade County, Fla., where the bottom dropped out of property values, this area has seen more modest declines between 3 to 5 percent, he said.

“We’re not seeing stuff drop through the floor,” Drake said. “There are not as many foreclosures.”

However, Drake acknowledges that North Carolina’s unemployment rate was 8.7 percent in December — the highest since 1993 — and that some small businesses are closing.

In fact, Drake, who’s been in business for 35 years, says it is still the worst he’s ever seen.

“It wasn’t this bad in the ‘70s during the oil embargo,” he said. “I remember having to line up at the gas station, and you could only buy $5 of gas or buy gas on even or odd days based on you tag number.”

 

A bad plan

Something has happened in the past 40 years to make the United States go from the greatest creditor nation in the world to now the largest debtor nation, Drake said.

“Part of it is that we are spending more money than we take in,” he said.

And he said the nation is about to do it again with the proposed stimulus plan.

“We’re about to spend $819 billion we don’t have,” Drake said.

Drake would prefer if the government took a laissez-faire approach.

“The best thing the government could do for the economy is stay out of it,” Drake said. “Doing nothing is better than what they’re doing.”

The government got the country into the current economic situation by encouraging banks to make sub-prime mortgages to unqualified buyers so low-income people could realize the American Dream, Drake asserted.

The Federal Reserve artificially lowered interest rates to entice people to buy homes they couldn’t afford, Drake added.

If anyone is to blame it may be whoever was on the Senate Finance Committee when Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac gave 0 percent down home loans, Drake said.

Drake calls the proposed stimulus plan before the Senate a “bad plan.”

“It ‘s bad for several reasons,” Drake said. “It’s not going to stimulate the economy. We’re just borrowing from our kids. We’re putting ourselves further in debt.” Moreover, the plan has lots of pork barrel spending.

“Some of it’s going to Planned Parenthood. It’s a bad bill.”

The bill has been compared to FDR’s New Deal in that it proposes to create jobs building roads and bridges across the nation.

“My grandfather did some WPA work laying rock along the roadsides,” Drake said. “I’m not saying it won’t help a few people.”

The economy will recover on its own if the government stays out of it, Drake said.

“Businesses have done well in America on their own for over 200 years,” Drake said. “That government is best that governs least. American people are ingenious and hard working and if left to their own devices will succeed.”

T&S Hardwoods General Manager Jack Swanner sat in his office with an ashtray full of cigarette butts next to him and an unopened bottle of merlot on his desk.

Laying beside him was a Wall Street Journal, and Swanner said the news was bad.

“It says the same thing they all say, the world is going to hell,” Swanner said of the newspaper. “I barely read them anymore.”

However, the headline that day was fairly optimistic: “Price Cuts Spur Home Sales.”

Swanner has hope, too, even though business is down 40 percent.

“This is not the end of the world or the United States,” Swanner said. “This is the worst recession we’ve been in in my lifetime. The system will fix itself. There will be people who make it. There will be prosperity, but there is going to be a lot of collateral damage and carnage.”

‘I don’t like not producing’

Through the window of Swanner’s Sylva office the sawmill yard is seen but there are no forklifts moving, no loading trucks filled with boards, no workers walking about like there would normally be — just stacks of wood sitting in what appears to be a ghost town.

The empty work yard is reminiscent of what is going on around the country with few people working and fewer products being produced.

“It is a ghost town,” said Swanner, a tall burly man who hates to see his beloved hardwood industry in the pits.

“I don’t like not producing, I don’t like not working,” said Swanner, as he walked around the sawmill yard.

In January Swanner made the tough decision to cut his 75 employees’ hours to 18 a week compared to their usual 40 or more. Now employees only work Monday and Tuesday — the rest of the week the plant is closed.

“Until sales increase, we can’t run more,” Swanner said. “It’s sad seeing the economy this way. The men are not getting the hours they need.”

The cutback hours will continue into February, Swanner said.

Businesses associated with the logging industry are hurting also. The sawmill once contracted with three trucking companies to haul lumber, but now there is only one.

“You’re literally looking at the death of an entire industry,” said Swanner as he leaned back in his office chair.

He noted that a sawmill in Canton that was in business for 70 years just closed.

“Numerous loggers are sitting at the house, and the people working for them are sitting at the house,” Swanner said.

The sawmill’s employees are not the type of people who enjoy not working.

“There’s not a man or woman out here that wants unemployment or welfare,” Swanner said.

Swanner also has a strong work ethic and despises greedy CEOs like a recent corporate bank president who allegedly spent $1.2 million remodeling an office and Bernie Madoff, who masterminded a scam that bilked millions from investors.

There is a mindset of greed in the United States and a certain class of people with no work ethic, he said. But for the most part he believes Americans are still hard workers.

‘Mad at the system’

Sawmill yard supervisor Sandy Johnson has worked at the sawmill for 37 years and has never seen the economy this bad.

Since 1946, the sawmill has been in steady operation. Some employees have grandfathers who worked at the plant.

But today, as Johnson walked around the yard he said the employees worry about making their home and car payments.

When the tough decision was made to cut workers’ hours, Swanner gathered each shift at a safety meeting and broke the news in person.

“They’re not mad at us, they’re mad at the system,” Swanner said. They know what’s going on in the economy and the world.”

The sawmill relies on global demand to survive, shipping hardwood to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Italy and China.

Now the entire worldwide market is in the dump. In fact, he said the economy is probably worse in Europe than it is in the United States.

“Every market in the world is gone,” he said. “There is no international business being done.”

However, there was some good news last week. Three loads — white oak, maple and poplar — were just shipped to Israel.

Pointing out tall stacks of wood in the yard under canopies, Swanner said there usually isn’t so much inventory. Some of the boards are bundled with double straps of wire, meaning it will be shipped overseas, and the other boards only have a single strap to show that they stay in the United States.

Stimulus strategy

Prior to the economic downturn, Swanner’s company produced about 16 million to 17 million board feet a year, but now it’s down by half. Something needs to be done to stimulate the home building industry to help turn things around, he said.

The $819 billion stimulus bill passed by the House and under review by the Senate this week needs to create jobs, he said.

He disagrees with where some of the money would be spent, saying it won’t do the country any good. He noted that the bill plans to spend $135 million fighting sexually transmitted diseases and $50 million for the arts.

That money should go toward creating real jobs, Swanner said.

“We need to put someone to work fixing an electrical grid,” Swanner said.

Projects here at home like fixing an archaic sewer system in Waynesville might be a good idea, he said.

Politicians need to set aside partisan politics and work for the betterment of the country, he said. Issues like abortion and gay marriage need to take a back seat.

And laying blame for the country’s poor economy can wait, he said.

“I don’t care whose fault it is; we’re in a crisis,” he said, adding that he doesn’t care if the blame goes all the way back to Reagan.

Swanner thinks Obama will make a good president, but the challenge is taking a fragmented Congress and making them work together.

Congress, he said, has got to understand that they were sent there for the betterment of the country.

It is regrettable that the United States went away from being a manufacturing country to a “financial services” county, Swanner said. The country needs to get back to producing jobs like electricians, miners and plumbers, he said.

“We need to manufacture something and sell it,” he said. “We don’t need to lose that.”

One of the problems in this country is that math and science scores for American children have “plummeted,” he said, resulting in fewer engineers.

No matter what happens with the proposed $819 billion stimulus bill, there will still be a massive debt passed on to Swanner’s children and other generations, he said.

Swanner remembers the recession of 1982 and 1991, but the difference with this downturn, he said, is that it is bigger worldwide.

The military remains a popular employment choice for young people today, and the poor economy is probably helping steer many through its recruitment centers.

The Army and all the other branches of the military met recruiting goals in 2008, the first time that’s happened since 2004. As unemployment numbers continue to rise across the nation, the military and its promise of steady pay, good benefits, and money for college become very attractive.

“Basically, it’s a guaranteed job, and even after you’re out they take care of you,” said Brand Lenhart, a 23-year-old Sylva resident we interviewed for a story last week about military recruiting.

Aside from the economy, another factor is probably helping recruitment — President Barack Obama’s promise to end the war in Iraq and the declining violence in that country over the last year.

Some join the military out of tradition or a duty to country, but many others sign up because it’s a steady job. For many reasons, military service remains a part of growing up for many Americans. The discipline and rigor expected of those in the military are worthwhile lessons for almost any youth. And employers generally look favorably on those who have military experience, seeing in them people who understand how to take orders and know the value of hard work.

We hope that congressional leaders continue to pass measures to make sure we pay our soldiers a fair wage and that we take care of them and their dependents, for their service is vital to our country.

In this economy, the popular recruiting slogan, “Uncle Sam Wants You,” may easily get turned on its head. Many young people want — and need — Uncle Sam so they can count on a good job with good benefits.

 

Questions for the high sheriff

Swain County Sheriff Curtis Cochran should be more open about the incident where he fired his gun at an escapee.

Cochran shot at the vehicle of an escapee who had somehow gotten out a holding room and stolen a church van. The man had been charged with eluding arrest and drug possession when he found his way out of a holding cell at the Swain County Courthouse.

Cochran was elected sheriff in Swain County in 2006. He does not have a law enforcement background and hasn’t had Basic Law Enforcement Training, a pre-requisite for being hired for a job as a patrolman in even the state’s smallest municipalities.

The escapee was unhurt and was later captured. But shooting one’s weapon at anyone is a serious matter, and Cochran at this point is keeping too much about the incident quiet. He says the escape from the holding cell is under investigation, but the shooting is not.

We believe the SBI should be called in to assess whether the sheriff department’s response to the escape was handled properly.

The people of Swain County voted Cochran in, but that doesn’t put him above the law. Citizens need to know that the county’s highest ranking law enforcement officer is carrying out his duties with the professionalism the job demands. Anything less is not acceptable, besides being potentially dangerous.

When Brandon Lenhart of Sylva was laid off from his construction job, he looked for work for four months but didn’t have any luck.

Finally, he turned to one place that is always hiring — the military. With unemployment on the rise, Uncle Sam’s call of “We Want You” is becoming more attractive.

“A lot of companies aren’t hiring, and people are turning to the military as an alternative,” said Kenneth Teague, Air Force master sergeant with the recruiting office in Knoxville, Tenn. “It has steady pay, benefits, a retirement plan.”

With the war in Iraq calming down and President Barack Obama pledging to bring troops home, the military seems like a better idea to many young adults than it has the past several years.

Starting out in the Army, Lenhart will make $18,000 a year and also receive housing, medical insurance and food.

Lenhart said two out of every three soldiers he met at the military entrance processing station were unemployed.

“Basically it’s a guaranteed job, and even after you’re out they take care of you,” said Lenhart.

Lenhart, 23, thought about joining up after high school but decided not to because the war was too dangerous. But now with a new president and declining combat action, he is willing to give it a shot.

“It seems like Obama is a good guy,” Lenhart said. “It seems like the war is winding down.”

 

Recruiting numbers up

In the first three months of the military’s fiscal year, which began in October, 5,943 more people have been recruited to the armed services compared to the same period of time last year.

But some think it may be too early to tell if the poor economy is causing people to turn to the military for work.

“We’ve had strong recruiting for several years, and now people want to say it’s because of the poor economy,” said Department of Defense Spokesman Lt. Col. Les Melnyk.

But there is plenty of evidence that suggests the poor economy is driving more to the military.

Air Force recruiter Michael Beutler of Sylva said lately there have been numerous people coming to his office saying they want to join because they can’t find a job. College students unable to secure jobs after graduation are joining the armed forces to give themselves additional leadership skills to help them stand out, according to Marine recruiter Sgt. Jesse Ross of Asheville.

But joining the armed forces just because you need a job is not enough, said Teague.

“You have to want to serve the country,” said Teague. “If you don’t, you won’t be happy.”

Army recruiter Jamie Wagoner of Sylva also thinks the poor economy is boosting recruitment.

“I don’t know how many 18-year-olds I’ve talked to who said, ‘I can’t find a job at a fast food restaurant,’” Wagoner said. “They say ‘I need to do something for myself to get out of this.”’

But many can’t get in the military because they are unable to meet the academic or physical requirements.

Wagoner said he is having difficulty finding people who can score high enough on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, and others have medical problems or law violations, he said.

“Of any 10 people, two are qualified,” Wagoner said. “People are confused and think anyone can get in.”

Those who are qualified may be eligible for a signing bonus of up to $40,000 to join the Army.

However, now that the economy is bad, signing bonuses may no longer be needed to entice people to join the services, Wagoner said.

“There are still bonuses, but they are definitely less,” said Wagoner.

There is other evidence that suggests the poor economy is luring people to the military.

According to U.S. Army Recruiting Command Spokesman Douglas Smith of Fort Knox, Ky., this is the first year since 2005 in which the Army met its recruiting goal the first three months of the year.

The Army’s goal is to recruit 80,000 new active duty soldiers this year. Last year the Army recruited 80,517.

Smith noted that over the years the Army has met its recruiting goals in terms of the number of soldiers, but the Army has fallen short of meeting its goal that 90 percent of recruits have a high school diploma.

“The wartime environment is part of the issue,” Smith said.

Last year the high school diploma percentage improved to 83 percent, and now that more people may be interested in the military the goal could be achieved.

 

Re-enlistments

The poor economy is also causing some people who have been in the armed forces in the past to re-enlist.

“I definitely like waking up every day knowing I’m going to get a paycheck,” said Wagoner.

In fiscal year 2008, the Army exceeded its retention goal with 73,913 soldiers reenlisting.

Spc. Ronald Rittenberry of Waynesville had been out of the Army for two and a half years before deciding to re-enlist earlier this month.

The Iraq war vet makes $2,250 a month in the military compared to $1,200 a month at his job working security at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino.

“I was stuck in jobs making $10 an hour,” he said. “I make better money in the Army than any job as a civilian.”

Rittenberry also joined back up because he simply loves the Army.

When he was being processed back into the military, Rittenberry said there were 57 others who had previously served.

“Some came back because of the economy,” he said. “Others got married and it didn’t work out with their wives.”

He agreed that some people may join now that the war has calmed down. He served in Iraq from 2003-2004 and said it is much less violent now.

“It’s a completely different war now than when I was over there,” he said.

The chance that he may go back to war doesn’t worry Rittenberry, who is now stationed at Fort Benning, Ga. “It’s part of the job detail,” he said.

 

A recruit’s story

With student loans and other bills, Robert Ehlers is barely making it as a cook at a Murphy restaurant.

“It’s hard to make ends met,” said Ehlers, who joined the Air Force last week.

Ehlers has an associate’s degree in culinary arts and hopes to cook in the Air Force. The small town of Murphy doesn’t give him much opportunity to expand his culinary horizons, but in the military he can travel the world and sample cuisine from different cultures.

In the volatile job market it will also be good to have the job security, he said.

His dad agreed: “You don’t think about how hard it is in the military when you think how tough it is in civilian life to make it.”

As Ehlers sat in the Air Force recruiter’s office last week with his mom, dad and sister, he said he is comforted by the fact that the war has subsided and that Obama plans to bring the troops home.

“I keep it in the back of my mind that he wants to pull the troops out,” Ehlers said.

He brought his family along so they could ask the recruiter any questions before he signed the final papers to enlist.

His mother said she is frightened that her son may go to war, but his dad, Jack, a Vietnam veteran, said, “I went to war, and I didn’t have a choice. I made the best of a bad situation.”

With both of his grandparents serving in World War II and his father a Vietnam vet, Ehlers says he loves America.

His father, though, doesn’t think the United States should be in Iraq.

“That war is the silliest damn thing,” he said. “It’s just like Vietnam.”

Over the past year, Ehlers said he has fallen into a rut and was no longer a go-getter.

“This is the first thing I’ve been excited about in a long time,” he said.

The military can also help pay down Ehlers’ $44,000 in student loans, and will also pay his tuition if he pursues a bachelor’s in culinary arts.

Basic training, a tough eight and a half weeks of physical and mental tests, is facing Ehlers. When he begins basic training his head will be shaved almost bald. Ehlers’ dad shared a humorous story about his days in the military when a soldier asked for a little hair to be taken of the sides and all the hair was shaved.

The father also warned that Ehlers should not wink or smile at the drill sergeant.

“You’ll be doing more damn pushups,” the father said.

Looking at her son with loving eyes, Ehlers’ mom said, “You’re going to look cute in a uniform.”

 

Another recruit’s story

Sitting next to his father in the Air Force recruiting office in Sylva, Chris Scharf explained that he is joining the armed forces because he lacks focus in life.

Scharf was only 13 years old when the war in Iraq began and now could be headed there himself.

“I didn’t have any discipline,” said Scharf, 19, of Maggie Valley. “I know I need to be straightened out a little bit.”

The recruiter, Beutler, said he was the same way. “I was a very wild child before the Air Force,” Beutler said.

Beutler asked Scharf a series of questions, including whether he has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, asthma, problems with credit, law violations or a drug history. Scharf answered no to all the questions.

The recruiter then asked Scharf about his future plans.

Scharf said he wants to get married and have his own house and boat.

“I want the great American Dream,” Scharf said.

The Air Force can make that dream come true by providing stability, job security and an education, the recruiter said.

Scharf tried college but didn’t have the drive. Concerned about his son’s future, Scharf’s father, Gary, wants his son on a “career track,” possibly in the fields of physical therapy or bio-medicine.

“I want to prepare him for life,” his father said.

“You’re going to have a guaranteed job in the Air Force,” Beutler said.

With the largest community college in the world, the Air Force can provide Scharf with a solid education for free, Beutler said.

As a member of the Air Force, Scharf also wants to form tight relationships with other airmen, adding that he likes encouraging others.

“When you join the Air Force, you join a big brotherhood of airmen,” said Beutler.

Scharf is the first in the family to join the Air Force, and his dad is proud of him.

As a patriotic American, Scharf said he would be proud to serve the country in war.

“I believe in what this country stands for,” Scharf said.

 

The recruiting strategy

Sgt. Beutler picks up the phone and says, “Sounds like you made a decision.”

Beutler just landed another recruit.

“Congratulations on your decision,” he says.

Beutler picked up the recruit like he does so many others —just by talking to people when he is going about his daily life.

He saw this recruit at the Wal-Mart about six months ago and stopped and talked to him about the Air Force.

Beutler may also talk to people at the gym, grocery store or the movie theatre, and he visits high schools.

Sylva had lacked a strong Air Force recruiting presence until Beutler arrived about a year and a half ago. He covers Jackson, Macon, Cherokee, Swain, Haywood, Clay and Graham counties.

Beutler was named rookie recruiter of the year in 2008 for an eight-state region for recruiting 32 to join the Air Force in 2008 when his goal was just 18.

Beutler said he creates a no-stress atmosphere.

“There is no pressure,” he said. “I only want you to join if you are committed.”

It has been said that the standards to join the armed forces have been lowered to get more people enlisted, but Beutler said the Air Force has not loosened its requirements.

In fact, the requirements may be more difficult because the Air Force is now requiring credit checks and is more stringent on criminal background checks, he said.

Recruiters are up against a lot of negative misinformation from anti-military blogs about the military, Master Sgt. Teague said.

“ I think it’s had an effect,” Teague said.

For accurate information people should go to airforce.com, he said.

WestCare cuts 45 jobs

The financially struggling WestCare Medical Center with hospitals in Sylva and Bryson City has eliminated 45 full-time positions, according to a statement from the hospital.

Some of the cuts were achieved through attrition, but others have been laid off.

WestCare has proposed cutting 90 full-time positions over the course of the year.

WestCare CEO Mark Leonard announced in October that a workforce reduction of 30 would occur by Jan. 15, but apparently the schedule has been accelerated.

The plan was designed to stem financial losses, which required a reduction in staff, emphasis on efficiency and focus on physician recruiting to provide patients more access to local healthcare, according to a hospital statement.

Because of national economic problems facing small rural hospitals, WestCare lost $3.2 million between June and August, according to WestCare.

Recruiting qualified physicians to the area is a major component of WestCare’s management plan. Since October, WestCare Health System has signed an ear, nose and throat specialist and has secured verbal commitments from four other physicians. Two internists, a radiologist and an orthopedic surgeon are planning to visit next month, according to the statement.

Harrah’s Cherokee Casino is cutting 100 jobs because of the national economic downturn.

The cuts represent about 5 percent of the casino’s approximately 1,800 employees. Harrah’s hopes to achieve the workforce reduction voluntarily, with the offer of a severance package spurring people to step up. But it will force layoffs if enough volunteers don’t materialize.

Darold Londo, general manager of the casino, said the softening economy with no apparent turnaround in sight has forced the casino’s hand.

“We continue to see fewer customers as they, like all consumers, are being prudent and cautious with their discretionary incomes,” Londo said. The casino’s gaming revenue has declined 4.4 percent over the past year.

This is the first time Harrah’s Cherokee has had to lay off employees in its 11-year history, Tribal Casino Gaming Enterprise Chairwoman Norma Moss noted. Moss said the employees are being offered a “fair and lucrative” severance package.

Employees were notified of the cuts Monday and told to come forward by Jan. 19 if they want to be part of the voluntary layoffs. The casino hopes the cuts will be made by the end of the month.

All of the casino’s profits are given to the Cherokee government. For the first time since the casino opened, that amount has gone down. In the 2007 fiscal year ending in September, $253 million was given to the tribe, compared to only $244 million for 2008, Moss said. Moss said the casino is trying to manage its operating costs to minimize the impact on the money distributed to the tribe.

Half of the profits go for tribal programs and the other half is distributed to the tribe’s approximately 13,500 members in the form of “per-capita” checks twice a year.

A $633 million expansion under way at the casino will not be impacted by the economic problems, Moss said.

“It will continue,” Moss said.

The expansion includes doubling the restaurants, hotel rooms, seating in the showroom and the gaming space, Moss said. The expansion will continue because the casino secured good financing and construction costs are affordable because of the lack of other construction work, Moss said.

Moss said the casino is excited about the expansion because when the economy rebounds Harrah’s Cherokee will be ahead of the competition.

Londo said as the economy improves he hopes that many employees can be rehired, and as phases of the expansion are completed additional employees will be needed.

The national economic downturn is taking its toll on married couples dealing with financial stress, according to area marriage counselors.

Dr. Helen Andrews of Waynesville said the poor economy seems to be the primary issue on her clients’ minds.

Money is always a factor in relationships, she said, adding that couples often complain about each other’s spending.

“They’re having to cut back on so many things,” she said.

Money does not cause problems — the problems were already there, Andrews said. A lack of money can magnify existing problems, she said.

“If you haven’t got enough to make ongoing expenses, you’re likely to be frustrated,” she said. “Everything looks bigger.”

Worrying about money can cause couples to be more upset about everything else, she said. Couples having money problems should learn to communicate better.

“The work is to have them talk and listen to each other,” Andrews said.

When economic times are good couples can escape by going shopping, going out to eat or doing something else that is fun.

When there is not money, all there is to do is sit at the house, she said.

Couples need to be better partners and work together rather than blame each other, but many couples have not developed a skill base to work together, she said.

Victor Hamilton, owner of Sylva Christian Counseling, said children’s behavior may worsen when the parents are having financial problems.

Dr. Mary Ellen Griffin, a licensed clinical psychologist in Sylva, said children are aware of their parents’ emotional state and when the parents are worried, the children are, too.

Couples often argue over how money should be spent and what gets higher priority, Hamilton said.

During hard economic times a man supporting a stay-at-home mom may have to take on a second job, which means more time away from home, and that can cause other problems, he said.

And when there is anxiety about money, feelings are more sensitive and emotions can take over, he said.

Anxiety over money can often come out as anger and frustration, he said.

“That’s what therapy is all about — looking under the obvious presenting behavior and seeing what motivates their fear and anxiety,” he said.

Hamilton recommends couples engage in stress reduction techniques to release tension in the body. He said being aware of “proper breathing” is important.

Also, he said, a “spiritual dimension is a crucial element.”

“The times are causing people to return to their roots of spiritual beliefs,” he said.

Divorces probably are not on the rise, he said. Instead, there may be fewer divorces because couples are so focused on making ends meet that they are not thinking about separation. Moreover, divorces can be expensive.

There were 100 divorces in Jackson County in 2008, according to the County Clerk’s Office.

Monty Beck, a Franklin attorney specializing in divorce, said he hasn’t seen an increase in the number of people seeking divorces, but the recession has made it more difficult when it comes to dividing assets.

A couple’s most significant asset is often its home, but now homes are not selling, so the equity can’t be divided.

During economic hard times couples may think twice about getting divorced because of the cost, said Beck, who is a board certified specialist in family law

And when couples separate, that means two households must be maintained when there used to be only one, he noted. The cost of a divorce depends on what issues are involved such as custody, alimony and property, Beck said.

By Jennifer Garlesky • Staff Writer

As Shelli Milling of Georgia unpacked her minivan she watched her two sons play in the snow at Maggie Valley’s Jonathan Creek Inn parking lot.

A tough farming year

By Julia Merchant • Staff Writer

“Overall, it’s been a really tough year for farming,” said Jackson County farmer William Shelton as he reflected back on 2007.

“It’s one for the history books,” agreed Bill Skelton, director of the N.C. Cooperative Extension in Haywood County.

Harrah’s Cherokee Casino quietly marked its 10th anniversary in November, but it’s impossible to ignore exactly what it has meant to the Eastern Band of Cherokee and its members. It has been the catalyst for a proud people to turn around their economic plight, and in doing so use the gaming revenues to preserve a culture and history that is part of the story of all the Americas and this county.

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