By Beth Lawrence
Jackson County did not progress nor regress in this year’s County Distress Rankings put forth by the state. Depending on one’s point of view, that can be considered good news or bad.
Jackson remains at Tier 2 for 2022, according to the N.C. Department of Commerce’s ranking system.
The rankings are more than interesting data points. The designations help the state, county leaders and others determine eligibility for funding.
“They’ve been doing county development tiers for a long time,” Economic Development Director Tiffany Henry said. “We’re a Tier 2, right in the middle of that. Based on those tier findings you have different competitive grants and incentive programs that often use those tier rankings to guide that competitive benchmark.”
Levels help grant programs decide how much funding a county should receive and whether a county is required to put forth matching funds to win the grant, Henry said.
Depending on the point of view, a Tier 2 may be the most desirable.
“Tier 2 is better than a Tier 3,” Henry said. “What that basically, again, goes back to is if you’re trying to take advantage of any N.C. Commerce grants, they’ll use those tier findings to determine what you’re eligible for, so obviously if you’re a Tier 1, or most distressed you’re eligible for more and your match funding is lower. Sometimes you might not want to be a Tier 3 even though it means you’re in an economic growth trajectory and all signs are looking good.”
Grants available also support job growth including recruitment and expansion for manufacturing and larger employers.
“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 into more economically distressed areas of the state,” an N.C. Commerce press release said.
Other grants may be used to rehabilitate buildings and existing structures so that counties or property owners might attract development and investment.
The tier category is determined by assessing unemployment rate, median household income, population growth and assessed property value per capita for each county.
The fact that Jackson County has a large number of second homes can impact the equation due to the part it plays in property taxes and revenue, Henry said.
But other factors such as population growth and the fact that Jackson County has not gained or lost a significant number of permanent residents might offset that impact to a degree.
By law 40 counties must be designated Tier 1, 40 counties will be assigned to Tier 2, and 20 will be designated as Tier 3.
Tier 1 counties are those whose residents experience the most economic hardship.
Eleven counties received new designations for the 2022 rankings.
Six counties saw enough growth to be considered less distressed including one in Western North Carolina. Those counties are Alexander, Brunswick, Buncombe, New Hanover, Randolph and Rowan.
Five counties will now be considered more distressed, including three WNC counties. The counties moving down in rank are Chowan, Jones, Macon, Polk and Watauga.
Macon County was Tier 3 in 2021. They had previously been a Tier 2 for years. They are once again a Tier 2
“Rarely do you have a rural county that ends up a Tier 3,” Henry said. “Which is why it was really unusual last year that Macon County was a Tier 3.”