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4 WNC Counties Move Up In Statewide Economic Ranking

Lilly Knoepp
Picturesque mountain scenery has helped make tourism a key driver of economic growth in WNC.

  The North Carolina Department of Commerce released its economic development ratings for all 100 counties. Here’s more on what that means and how Western North Carolina ranked:


Each year, the department groups all 100 counties into tiers. The law calls for 40 counties to be designated as Tier One, 40 counties to be designated as Tier Two, and 20 counties to be designated Tier Three. Each county is measured against the others based on economic data and adjustments.  This year, the state took away all adjustments and is using four economic development factors: unemployment rate, median household income, population growth and assessed property value per capita.  


Sarah Thompson is the executive director of the Southwestern Commission, and she explains why Jackson County is moving up from Tier One to Tier Two because of the lack of adjustments.  


“There used to be an adjustment factor that had to do with poverty rate and due to the high number of students at Western Carolina University who have no income,” says Thompson. “It made Jackson county look like it had a much higher poverty rate then it does in reality.”


In Region A,  Macon, Clay and Cherokee county are also moving up to Tier Two counties.


“We do have positive economic activity in those counties but it does also have to do with how the state is measuring the data,” says Thompson. “I think our whole region is growing and improving in really positive ways.”


These rankings are looked at mostly by local leaders, new businesses looking to move into the area and state organizations who award funding. Some funding is only available to Tier One counties, says Thompson.


“You know do you want to be a poorer county and eligible for more grant funding or do you want to have your economy doing better? So it depends on the program that you are talking about,” says Thompson.


Looking across the region, Swain County will remain at Tier One along with Graham and Mitchell. While Haywood, Buncombe and Henderson remain at Tier Three. Yancey is moving up to Tier Two.


Thompson wants everyone to remember that these rankings aren’t set in stone. Tier One doesn’t always mean a county is impoverished. It could just small, a population under 12,000 makes a county automatically Tier One. Tier Three also doesn’t mean that a county doesn’t have room to grow. Haywood County and Mecklenburg County are both Tier Three counties with vastly different levels of economic activity.  


“Take it with a grain of salt. This is just one measure of the economic health of a community,” says Thompson.


The new rankings will take effect at the beginning of 2019.



Lilly Knoepp serves as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina. She is a native of Franklin, NC who returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.
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