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News 13 Investigates: The cost of a living wage (Part 4)

Gwen Wisler, Asheville's vice mayor, said the city's lack of high-paying jobs is a problem officials are well aware of. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the fourth story in a four-part series.

Some business and community leaders said more high-wage jobs are the answer to Asheville's income gap.

RELATED | News 13 Investigates: The cost of a living wage

News 13 has been investigating the cost of a living wage, hearing from families struggling to get by. Many said they simply can't survive the high cost of living on such low wages.

CITY'S RESPONSE

Gwen Wisler, Asheville's vice mayor, said it's a problem city officials are well aware of.

"That is troubling from the standpoint of what the vibrancy of the city is, so it's a concern, absolutely," said Wisler.

Wisler said the city is doing everything it can to address it.

"I think one of the government's jobs is to make Asheville an attractive place to live and work," said Wisler.

RELATED | News 13 Investigates: The cost of a living wage (Part 2)

Wisler is one of many who said the answer lies in places live AvL Technologies, companies that pay much higher than the living wage. Wisler believes there is a big need for more high-paying technology jobs in the city.

"It's an attractive place to live, which tends to bring the cost of living here up. So, in order to afford that, you need to have higher paying jobs," said Wisler.

LACK OF TECHNOLOGY JOBS

AvL Technologies agreed positions like those it offers are hard to find.

"Over the years, Asheville has lost a lot of those kinds of jobs and infrastructure, and we're trying to help with AvL bringing back those types of jobs," said President Mike Proffitt.

RELATED | News 13 Investigates: The cost of a living wage (Part 3)

Proffitt said the company tries to hire local engineers, to build local parts for its products.

But, he admits, it's hard to tempt job seekers to move here when there aren't many other high-tech jobs to move on to.

"Do you go to the big Atlanta area where you can go from job to job to job? In Asheville you don't have that ability to do so," said Proffitt.

CHAMBER OF COMMERCE RESPONSE

The Chamber of Commerce agrees the career ladder is important, but said there are plenty of high-paying positions that people just may not know about. Which is why it started ventureasheville.com, where people can easily search job opportunities.

"We've got, I think, 12,000 jobs available in our market right now. But matching the talent to those jobs is very important and those skills that they need with those jobs, so, really, it could be a skills gap," said Ben Teague, with the Asheville Chamber of Commerce.

Teague said that's the other piece of the problem -- matching an employee's education and experience with the right opening.

But he said the group is working on it.

In fact, Teague said, a decade ago, businesses invested $37 million in Asheville annually, but now that's grown to $1 billion.

"Whether people in the general public know it or not, we've seen this exponential increase in economic development projects in the last number of years," said Teague.

But city officials could not say exactly how many companies have opened in Asheville over the past three years.

They did say that since 2014, only six companies got tax incentives to open in the city.

The total incentive grant for those businesses is $3.7 million.

"We are not the most aggressive one in the world in incentives, but we do see our community and the brand of who we are as an incentive in itself. And we want to find those companies that value who we are as a community," said Teague.

He said Buncombe County has had the lowest unemployment rate in the state for nearly two years straight, showing that most people here are finding jobs.

But he also knows it's the quality and pay that's in question.

"We have to be moving forward in our vision of creating better and better jobs for our people," said Teague.

The City of Asheville is living wage certified and city officials said they encourage residents to support local businesses who pay higher wages.

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