12-3-2021 – Report shows foothills region regaining slight foothold

Posted on: December 3rd, 2021 by admin No Comments


December 3, 2021




Dec 2, 2021 Updated 13 hrs ago


LENOIR — A new report shows that Caldwell County is slowly beginning to improve its financial situation, despite its continued Tier 1 designation as among the state’s economically distressed.


The North Carolina Department of Commerce’s N.C. Development Tier Designations report details and compares the level of economic stress within each county. The rankings are divided into three tiers: Tier 1 designates the 40 most distressed counties; Tier 3 designates the 20 least distressed counties; and Tier 2 contains the other 40 counties.


The report uses four different factors to determine each county’s ranking: the average unemployment rate; median household income; the percentage growth in population; and the adjusted property tax base per capita, from the most recent 12 months.


Caldwell County currently ranks in Tier 1.


“Unemployment hurt our ranking the most,” said Deborah Murray, executive director of the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission.


Per the reports, Caldwell demonstrated significant improvement with its per capita tax base — a 15% increase.


The report calculated the average unemployment rate for each county from October 2019 to September 2020, so the prolonged effects of closures from the pandemic were taken into account. Caldwell County’s average unemployment rate was the 27th highest in 2020. Consequently, the county ranked as the 26th economically distressed county out of the state’s 100 counties. However, the ranking improved to 37th in 2021, according to the report.


In 2021, Caldwell’s average unemployment rate dropped to 5.29%, bringing the county ranking to 38th highest unemployment in the state.


“The most recent year’s unemployment rate had the most negative affect on our ranking,” Murray wrote in an email to stakeholders about the report. “The prolonged effects of COVID unemployment through the spring of 2021 pushed Caldwell’s average unemployment rate to 5.29% for the October 2020 through September 2021 measured year. Today Caldwell’s unemployment rate is 3.7%.”


In more encouraging news for the county, Caldwell’s average private sector wage revealed promising growth. The county’s average annual wage grew from $41,157 to $43,905, a 6.7% increase.


The tier designations, which are mandated by state law, determine a variety of state funding opportunities to assist in economic development. That means there are several financial advantages to being in Tier 1, as the county will receive more federal grants and aid. This money can be spent on improving the county by building schools and housing infrastructure.


“We were not expecting significant improvement in population growth,” said Murray, “but our ranking in that measurement improved slightly. As the new housing developments gain momentum, we should see improvement there.”


The county sum rank calculates each of the four factors mentioned above to grade each county, and then the economic distress designation ranks them on a score of 1-100, 1 being the most distressed and 100 being the least distressed. In 2021, the most distressed county in North Carolina was Robeson County, which has the lowest average property tax base per capita at $62,790 and the lowest median household income at $36,366. Robeson’s sum rank is 19 and their designation is 1st and most distressed. Scotland County is ranked as 2nd most distressed, with the highest unemployment rate in the state at 9.83%.


The least distressed county is Currituck County, which ranks at 100 and is in Tier 3. The county has consistently high scores across all four categories, with the highest score being 98th in the state for a population growth of 8.75% since July 2017. Their county sum rank totals 380, the highest score in the state; the highest possible score is 400.


Comparing Caldwell County’s economic distress rank with other surrounding counties in the western North Carolina shows that specific elements, such as the median household income for Caldwell, has climbed above other counties like Burke and Cleveland, and Caldwell’s improvement in household income stands out all the more because neighboring Catawba County (the part of the region with the largest population, economy, and income) saw no growth in its median household income.


Alexander County’s designation has changed from Tier 1 last year to Tier 2 this year, with their economic distress rank at 53rd in the state. Alexander County has a higher median household income than Caldwell County at $54,960, compared to Caldwell’s $48,512. Caldwell’s median household increased 12% over its previous measurement.


“We will continue to see these numbers improve,” Murray added.


Burke County has a lower unemployment rate at 4.8% than Caldwell County’s at 5.29%. However, because of the other scores being lower than Caldwell’s, Burke County’s overall economic distress rank is 32nd in the state, compared to Caldwell at 37th.


Catawba County has higher scores than Caldwell in every category, with an overall economic distress rank of 68th in the state and a Tier 2 designation. For instance, in 2021 Catawba County experienced a 2.15% increase in population, while Caldwell experienced a 0.47% decrease.


Cleveland County is ranked as 38th in the state with a Tier 1 designation. While the county has higher population growth than Caldwell County at 2.51%, it has lower scores than Caldwell in the other three categories.


Rutherford County is ranked as 22nd in the state with a Tier 1 designation. This county is one of the most distressed in western North Carolina. The county’s lowest score is for its unemployment rate at 6.77%.


Wilkes County is ranked as 29th in the state with a Tier 1 designation. The county’s lowest score is for its median household income, which is 27th in the state at $45,250.

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