New Hanover says economic ranking drop a ‘blip,’ officials optimistic going into 2021

New Hanover and Brunswick Counties slip in economic ranking

RALEIGH, N.C. (WECT) - The North Carolina Department of Commerce released the county tier designations for 2021 Monday. Two local counties, New Hanover and Brunswick, moved to a more distressed tier ranking.

Each year, the NC Department of Commerce ranks all 100 counties according to their overall economic health. This is known as the economic distress ranking.

The three-tiered rankings are based on assessment of four economic factors: unemployment rate, median household income, population growth and assessed property value per capita.

Tier 1 counties are deemed the most economically distressed and Tier 3 counties are the least economically distressed.

This year, New Hanover County and Brunswick County moved from a Tier 3 (least economically distressed) to a Tier 2. Bladen and Columbus County remain at Tier 1, while Pender County remains at Tier 3.

For New Hanover County (NHC), the county’s average unemployment rate from October 2019 through September 2020 was the primary driver impacting this change.

Unemployment in NHC rose from 3.1% in October 2019 to 15.1% early in the pandemic and decreased to 6.5% in September 2020.

Even so, county Chief Strategy Officer Jennifer Rigby said things are looking better for the New Year.

“I think everything right now is certainly new and dynamic and different,” she said, but added, “We do feel very confident about our local economy, and we feel like we feel very optimistic about our recovery.”

The importance of economic distress designations, mandated by state law, is that they determine eligibility for several different grant programs that assist in economic development.

Because Tier 2 makes more of those programs available, getting downgraded isn’t all bad.

“There’s a silver lining to everything,” she said, “and so this does create some additional opportunities for us to seek funding from the state that we otherwise would not be eligible for, and so we certainly intend to take advantage of, of that opportunity.”

Click here for more information on the North Carolina economic development tiers and available grants.

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