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Currituck, Camden move up on NC economic 'tiers'

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Currituck County will be considered one of the most prosperous counties in North Carolina next year, following the N.C. Department of Commerce releasing its 2019 designations of economic development “Tiers.”

Currituck will be considered a Tier 3 county next year, based on four measures Commerce checks every year to set counties' economic tiers. In another change in Northeastern North Carolina, Camden has moved up from Tier 1, the most economically distressed tier, to Tier 2.

The changes are due to counties no longer qualifying for Tier 1 or 2 based on small populations. In effect, the state doesn't consider a population of fewer than 50,000 as a sign of distress.

Pasquotank, Perquimans and Chowan counties will remain Tier 1 counties, according to Commerce's new designations.

Commerce also ranks counties from most to least economically distressed. Currituck is and will remain in 2019 the 98th least distressed county in North Carolina. Put another way, Currituck is the third most prosperous county in the state, behind only Wake and Chatham.

The Tier designations aren't just a sign of a county's economic health; they also affect state investment. Tier 1 counties qualify for the most generous state funding for economic development and infrastructure, such as through the Job Development Investment Grant Program, while Tier 3 counties qualify for the least generous.

The Department of Commerce determined counties' tier rankings for 2019 based solely on four measures: tax base per capita, the rate of population growth over the prior three years, median household income, and the 12-month average for unemployment. It also ranks counties on those measures individually.

The data show Currituck improved from last year in property value and employment, and held steady on population growth, at 6.69 percent, one of the highest in the state. However, it worsened on one measure: median annual household income worsened from $66,426 to $57,570 compared to last year's report. That's still in the top 10 of median incomes by county, but further drops in income would be a concerning trend – particularly if property values continue rising.

As for Pasquotank, it improved in property values, household income and employment from the prior year. However, its population growth slowed, from 2.23 percent over 2013-2016 to 1.11 percent over 2014-2017.

Pasquotank's ranking of economic distress worsened from 37 to 31 from 2018 to 2019, Commerce's data show. Notably, a county can see some economic improvement but still drop in rank if other counties grew more.

Currituck County Manager Dan Scanlon and economic developer Larry Lombardi couldn't be reached for comment Thursday.

Camden economic developer Charlie Bauman welcomed Camden’s Tier 2 designation — it’s a “positive sign” and “shows we’re improving,” he said.

Acknowledging that Tier 2 status may limit state grants to Camden, compared to being Tier 1, Bauman said Camden would have to work a little harder and smarter to compensate.

Pasquotank economic developer Christian Lockamy said he hadn't reviewed the Commerce report yet. Asked about Pasquotank's population growth, Lockamy said he's focused on industrial growth and job creation, which will help that.

Stagnant or even declining population numbers have concerned Pasquotank and Elizabeth City officials in recent years. They've previously cited shrinking enrollment at Elizabeth City State University as one reason for that, but the university's enrollment has started growing again.

City officials are also marketing Elizabeth City as a retirement community, describing new retirees as an economic boost for their communities.

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