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Top Stories of 2012 – No. 4: County moves to Tier 2 status

Published 9:39pm Friday, December 28, 2012

After years of being a Tier 1 county — among the 40 poorest counties in North Carolina — Beaufort County’s status changes to Tier 2 come Tuesday, the beginning of the new year.
The change, according to the N.C. Department of Commerce, reflects improvement in the county’s economic health. The three tier designations determine how much and what economic-development aid counties get from the state.
“I think it’s bittersweet,” said Bob Heuts, Beaufort County’s economic-development director, said in late November when the tier changes were announced.
Using a statutory formula outlined in the 2006 Tax Credits for Growing Businesses — more commonly known as Article 3J tax credits — the Department of Commerce annually assembles required statistics for each of North Carolina’s 100 counties, applies the formula and assigns a tier designation ranking from one to three
The rankings are based on an assessment of each county’s unemployment rate, median household income, population growth and assessed property value per capita. In addition, any county with a population of less than 12,000 or a county with a population of fewer than 50,000 residents with 19 percent or more of those people living below the federal poverty level automatically are designated as among the most-distressed counties.
Heuts now faces the formidable challenge of promoting Beaufort County without the tax credits for job creation and grant opportunities that go along with Tier 1 status.
“I’ve been in a Tier 2 county for years, and we tried to get anything we could get,” Heuts said about his time as head of economic development in Lee County. “That’s our job. And I will do the same thing here.”
While some county leaders and economic-development entities celebrate the county’s improved economic status, some bemoan the loss of economic-development incentives available to the state’s poorest regions from the Department of Commerce. Qualified businesses that locate in lower-tiered counties are eligible for some grant programs and larger tax credits than those that locate in higher-ranked areas.
Heuts said while the loss of tax credits to businesses locating in Beaufort County is a concern, he is more worried about the affect on the change in status on grants from organizations such as the Golden LEAF Foundation, which uses tier status among its considerations in awarding grants.
Contributing writer Betty Mitchell Gray contributed to this article.


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