Wilson economic tier ranking to change

Shift boosts priority for state incentives

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The N.C. Department of Commerce recently announced Wilson and Nash counties are among 14 economically distressed areas that will be prioritized for incentives in 2019.

Wilson and Nash county each were ranked as Tier 2 communities in terms of average unemployment rate, median household income, percentage growth in population and adjusted property tax base per capita. In previous years, the ranking also factored in small population sizes and poverty rates, but the legislature eliminated those considerations as part of the 2018 Appropriations Act. Now Wilson and Nash are ranked as Tier 1, which is the most economically distressed ranking.

Edgecombe and Wayne counties already were ranked Tier 1 while Pitt County remains a Tier 2 community.

“The tier designations determine the incentive funding levels given to projects in 2019,” said Wilson Economic Development Executive Director Jennifer Lantz. “Wilson still has a fairly high unemployment rate and our poverty rate is still high as well, which determines median household income.”

Eliminating the two consideration factors led 28 counties to change tier rankings, with 14 becoming more distressed while 14 became less distressed.

“A positive side to this is that in Tier 1, we are eligible for more incentives when recruiting businesses,” said Wilson County Assistant Manager Ron Hunt. “Wilson County has a strong Economic Development Council and this will only complement the work they continue to do to strengthen Wilson County’s economic and employment opportunities.”

The state mandates 40 counties each be designated as Tier 1 and Tier 2 while 20 counties are designated as Tier 3. The tier designations determine eligibility for a variety of N.C. Department of Commerce grants such as the One North Carolina Fund, building reuse, water and sewer infrastructure and the downtown revitalization Main Street program. The designations also play a role in the state’s performance-based Job Development Investment Grant program that focuses on getting money for infrastructure improvements in the less populated parts of the state.

“We are fortunate to have a great county, city and development council partnership that allows us to work extremely well to recruit businesses,” Hunt said. “Certainly Tier 1 could open the door to additional opportunities for incentives.”

Lantz said the boost to incentive opportunities serves as a perk for companies considering locating in Wilson, but noted which tier a county is in doesn’t factor into a company’s decision-making process for locations until prospective sites are narrowed down to finalists.

“For the Wilson Economic Development Council, the ranking will help increase the state incentives for our projects, which is positive for our clients,” she said. “We will take advantage of the Tier 1 ranking for as long as we have it.”