The Perfect Climate for Growing Businesses
With its diverse economic sectors, strong workforce and entrepreneurial spirit, Henderson County is not only a place where retirees enjoy the fruits of their labor but also where new businesses take root and well-established industries thrive.
As with many rural areas, the education and healthcare sectors are top employers. Independent stores in bustling downtown Hendersonville and throughout the county make the retail sector robust. Retiree wealth helps bring strength to the financial and professional services sector. Agriculture, manufacturing and tourism remain cornerstones of Henderson County’s economy as the burgeoning craft beverages industry here also continues to flourish.
Since William Mills planted his first apple tree in the Fruitland area of Henderson County at the end of the 18th century, agriculture has been a staple of Henderson County’s economy. Apples are still king here with the county being ranked first in apple production in all of North Carolina, growing up to 80% of the state’s entire apple crop on more than 150 orchards in Henderson County. Having that many apples to manage also has spawned other related ventures such as packing houses, traditional and hard cider producers and many roadside stands.
In addition to growing apples in Henderson County, berry production is increasing in the county and the area is becoming known for grape production for wine. Local farms also produce a wide variety of field crops, nursery and sod crops, as well as beef cattle and other livestock.
In recent years, “agri-tourism” has added to this sector’s bottom line. Farmers markets, “u-pick” operations, hayrides, farm tours and tasting rooms can all be found in Henderson County.
With the popularity of locally grown foods, agri-tourism and craft beverages, agriculture here has become even more significant. Today, 557 farms with nearly 38,000 acres operate within the county. Agribusiness in Henderson County employs more than 8,150 people and brings in annual receipts of $400 million.
To help ensure that agriculture remains a growing sector in the local economy, Agribusiness Henderson County assists new and existing producers in their agricultural pursuits. This public and privately funded nonprofit also operates the Southern Mountain Fresh Program, which brings the public and locally grown food together. At SouthernMountainFresh.com, people can find out what’s in season in Henderson County and where to buy it. The website also publicizes area agriculture events and is a resource for agri-tourism opportunities. The Blue Ridge Farm Direct Market Association also offers information about farms as well as what crops are in season at NCApples.com.
The county’s first craft brewer opened its operation downtown off Seventh Avenue in Hendersonville in 2011. The next year, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company announced Mills River as the site of their East Coast operation and began brewing and distributing in 2014. During the same period, several commercial vineyards opened wineries in the county and small hard cider producers followed shortly thereafter.
In 2015, Bold Rock Hard Cider chose Henderson County for the site of its third facility, its first outside Virginia. Using apples grown in Henderson County as the foundation for its ciders, Bold Rock crafts a range of ciders including seasonal varieties at its facility in Mills River.
The craft beverage sector has added jobs, revenue and energy to the local economy. Sierra Nevada alone invested more than $107.5 million in Henderson County within its first five years of operation. Blue Ridge Community College offers a brewing program with courses in brewing, distillation and fermentation and related coursework in safety and sanitation, applied craft beverage microbiology, agriculture, marketing and management to ensure a skilled workforce for this thriving local industry. And thanks to tasting rooms, special events and tours, visitors have even more reason to visit Henderson County. Learn more about local breweries, wineries, cideries and places that make mead at VisitHendersonvilleNC.org/Cheers-Trail and through the Asheville Ale Trail at AshevilleAleTrail.com.
Henderson County is home to a strategic manufacturing cluster that creates products vital to such sectors as the automotive, outdoor recreation, food and beverage, metalworking and plastics sectors. Today, 140 manufacturers operate facilities in Henderson County.
They employ more than 5,500 people in the county’s workforce with average wages in excess of $61,000 a year.
Longtime local manufacturers include Kimberly-Clark Corporation, Berkeley Mills which has roots in Henderson County going back to the 1920s when Kimberly-Clark was first established as a paper and newsprint company. Kimberly-Clark is now a billion-dollar company with global family care and personal care brands that include Huggies®, Kleenex®, Scott®, Cottonelle® and Kotex®.
Manufacturing thrives in the county thanks to a strong focus on resources that support success. These assets include transportation access, infrastructure and workforce advantages. Being situated at the crossroads of I-26 and I-40 makes it easy to move raw materials and finished goods. Air transport and commercial air services provided by the Asheville Regional Airport and Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport ensure people and products move efficiently around the world.
Boasting both rural and urban settings, high numbers of doctors offices and recreation opportunities as well as a plethora of retirement facilities, Henderson County has long been a popular living choice for retirees. A recent study by SmartAsset ranked Hendersonville the best place to retire in the state of North Carolina. With 47% of the county’s population over the age of 50, retirees bring a significant impact to the economy. Of the county’s households, 25.9% earn retirement income and 38.1% earn Social Security income. Flat Rock ranked the 19th highest retirement income per household out of 722 NC towns at $42,096 annually, nearly double Henderson County’s average annual income of $25,617. As retirees frequent local businesses, this population sector helps drive the county’s economy.
Generations of summer campers have flocked to Henderson County for decades, making the residential summer camp industry here a sizable contributor to the tourism economy. Henderson County is part of a three-county region including Buncombe and Transylvania Counties that has the greatest concentration of camps in the United States. Twenty of those camps are in Henderson County and several of those have been in continuous operation since the 1920s. According to a 2020 study by NC State University, Henderson County’s residential summer camps have a direct economic impact on the county of $50 million and a total economic impact of $70 million. These camps create more than 2,278 full-time equivalent jobs. And families dropping off and picking up campers spend an average of more than $2,687 during their stays in Henderson County. For more about area camps, visit the North Carolina Youth Camp Association at NCCamps.org.
Henderson County attracts visitors at all times of the year, resulting in an ongoing economic impact from the tourism sector. Visitor spending in Henderson County in 2021 amounted to $391.28 million. Visitors spent an average of $108 per visitor per day, resulting in an impact including $126.10 million in food and beverage, $94.73 million in lodging and $54.86 million in recreation. that year amounted to more than $253.73 million. The industry supported 2,500 tourism-related jobs for the county in 2022.