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State releases 2020 economic tier rankings

State releases 2020 economic tier rankings

The North Carolina Department of Commerce released the county tier designations for 2020 this week. The designations, which are mandated by state law, play a role in several programs that assist in economic development.

The 2020 rankings comply with the methodology prescribed by the North Carolina General Assembly in General Statute §143B-437.08, which identifies four economic factors to be compiled and calculated by N.C. Commerce and then used to analyze and rank each of North Carolina’s 100 counties. Each county is then assigned its tier designation ranking from one to three. Tier 1 counties are generally the most economically distressed and Tier 3 counties are generally the least economically distressed.

The rankings are based on an assessment of each county’s unemployment rate, median household income, population growth and assessed property value per capita. The law calls for 40 counties to be designated as Tier 1, 40 counties to be designated as Tier 2, and 20 counties to be designated Tier 3.

Eight counties will change tier designations for 2020. Counties moving to a less distressed tier ranking include Cleveland, Gates, Hoke and Surry. Counties moving to a more distressed tier ranking include Caldwell, Onslow, Pitt and Wilkes.

Macon and Jackson moved up from the most distressed designation of tier 1 in 2018 to tier 2 in 2019, but both counties are unchanged this year. Macon County was moved from a tier 2 to tier 1 county in 2015, mainly because its population is under 50,000 and its poverty rate increased to nearly 20 percent. Jackson County dropped from a tier 2 to a tier 1 county in 2013 and stayed there until 2019 — also mainly due to its population and poverty rate. 

Haywood County will remain a tier 3 county for the fourth year in a row after moving up from a tier 2 county in 2017. For 2017, Haywood ranked 79 in the Economic Distress Ranking. The rise in the rankings was due to improvements in population growth and median household income. Adjustments for counties with populations less than 50,000 shifted three counties from tier three to tier two, which bumped Haywood County into tier three for 2017.

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Meanwhile Swain County hasn’t budged from its tier 1 designation in many years.

Tier designations determine eligibility and guidelines for several different grant programs that N.C. Commerce administers including the One North Carolina Fund, building reuse, water and sewer infrastructure and the downtown revitalization Main Street program. 

Tier designations also play a role in the state’s performance-based Job Development Investment Grant (JDIG) program, serving as a mechanism to channel funds for infrastructure improvements to less populated areas of the state.

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