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Tier report nearly ready for Legislature

By Staff
Counties’ economic ranks set business incentives
By NIKIE MAYO, News Editor
The N.C. Department of Commerce is expected to report on changes made to the state’s economic-tier scale before the Legislature reconvenes Jan. 24.
That tier scale determines what kinds of economic incentives are offered to businesses looking for places to set up shop or expand operations. In poorer, Tier One counties, such as Beaufort, Hyde, Martin and Washington, businesses are offered larger incentives for jobs created.
The Department of Commerce report was an eleventh-hour requirement added to a bill that changes the way tax credits are offered to businesses. During the last session, the General Assembly approved changes to the William S. Lee Quality Jobs and Business Expansion Act, eliminating two of the five tiers and allowing more counties to qualify as “poor.”
Because the number of “poor” counties is being increased by more than a dozen, safeguards are needed to ensure eastern North Carolina’s poorest Tier Ones can compete against larger “Piedmont types,” that will be lumped with them, said Tom Thompson, Beaufort County’s chief economic developer.
Department of Commerce Secretary Jim Fain met with Thompson last month to gather information for the economic report, fulfilling a bill requirement to work with the N.C. Rural Center to “develop additional strategies to enhance economic growth and development in economically distressed areas.”
The final version of the Department of Commerce’s report will be ready before state leaders reconvene in Raleigh. Basnight spokeswoman Amy Fulk said Tuesday. The report should be ready by Jan. 19.
Thompson said one of the messages that Beaufort County hoped to send during that report-prep meeting was that a county’s poverty rate should be a permanent criterion in determining its tier status.
Economic rankings are based on each county’s unemployment rate, median household income, population growth and assessed property value per capita, according to a recent press release from the Department of Commerce.
Under previous versions of the Lee Changes bill, Beaufort County was slated to qualify for a Tier Two designation. Thompson said such a move would prove costly, as the county’s lower economic status had equated to at least $250,000 in savings on recent projects.
The tier upheaval then blindsided local economic developers, particularly Thompson, who says a plea to Sen. Marc Basnight, D-Dare secured Beaufort County’s status as a Tier One. Language was added to the bill that qualifies any county with fewer than 50,000 residents and a poverty rate of 19 percent or more as an automatic Tier One.
Beaufort County has fewer than 50,000 residents and a poverty rate of 19.5 percent, according to the latest census.
The intent of the Lee changes is to designate 40 Tier One counties, 40 Tier Two counties and 20 Tier Three, or wealthy, counties. But for 2007 only, there will be 41 Tier One counties, according to a press release from the Department of Commerce. Beaufort County is the 41st one.