Surry County no longer grouped with most economically distressed counties, says NC Department of Commerce

By Terri Flagg -

Surry County is no longer ranked among the state’s most economically distressed, according to tier designations assigned annually by the North Carolina Department of Commerce.

The ranking system divides the 100 counties into three tiers based on their economic well-being, with the lowest 40 at Tier 1, the next 40 at Tier 2 and the top 20 at Tier 3.

Surry County will move up from its current status at a Tier 1 to Tier 2 in 2016, according to a Dec. 4 notification letter sent to County Manager Chris Knopf.

The designations are used by various state programs to “encourage economic activity” where it’s needed most, giving Tier 1 counties top priority for funding opportunities.

The agency used several economic indicators to rank counties and make the designations.

Those metrics include average unemployment rate, median household income, percentage growth in population and adjusted property tax base per capita.

Certain factors may automatically qualify a county to a tier status.

Counties with fewer than 10,000 people are automatically designated Tier 1, counties with fewer than 50,000 people and a poverty rate of 19 percent are automatically designated as Tier 1, and counties with fewer than 50,000 people are automatically designated Tier 2.

In the most recent analysis, Surry County earned a score of 44, “a large improvement from its ranking of 28 in 2015,” John E. Skvarla III, secretary of the DOC, said in the letter.

Surry County’s rank increased because the population grew and unemployment dropped from 6.96 percent to 5.46 percent.

“I don’t put a whole lot of faith or weight on tier status,” said Todd Tucker, president of the Surry County Economic Development Partnership.

“Technically it’s a good thing,” he said. “Our numbers are improving.”

However, Tucker acknowledged the downside of the tier move.

“Counties in Tier 1 get a better chance at some of the grants,” he said, adding that because of its successful track record with incentives, Surry County should remain competitive for monies despite the Tier 2 designation.

“At the end of the day, they want to see the money utilized and a good win come out of it,” he said. “Surry County has done good with that.”

Tucker said that the fact that Surry County is on the cusp of the two tiers is indicative of the actual situation.

“Is it doing great? No. Could we be doing better? Yes. In in the next couple of years we’re probably going to bounce back and forth,” he said.

A Tier 1 county since 2007, Surry Was moved to Tier 2 status in 2013, then returned to Tier 1 in 2014.

“What we’d hope is that our numbers improve enough to get in Tier 2 and stay there,” Tucker said.

In the 2016 rankings, Guilford, Rockingham and Wilson counties moved up a Tier while Caldwell, Haywood, McDowell and Yancey moved down.

“I believe we improve every year. It’s hard to make big incremental changes,” he said. “We’re running a marathon, not a sprint.”

By Terri Flagg

Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.

Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.

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