Kevin Jackson, a manager at Haywood Common, took a food order from Allen and Diane Sekelsky of Warrenton, VA on November 17, 2020. Haywood Common and neighboring business The Whale converted half of their parking lot in to outdoor seating for the warmer months and have recently reopened their dining room with plexiglass between booths and other precautions in place. The restaurant will also soon be adding outdoor heaters. Colby Rabon / Carolina Public Press.

Each year, North Carolina officials designate the 40 most economically distressed counties as Tier One, a middle group of 40 counties with some signs of distress as Tier Two and the 20 most economically well-off counties as Tier Three.

The N.C. Department of Commerce released the annual tier rankings Nov. 30.

On this week’s show, we talk with Carolina Public Press Capitol Bureau Chief Kirk Ross who closely follows these rankings, and Nathan Ramsey, executive director of Land of Sky Regional Council, a multi-county economic development organization serving Western North Carolina.

Pre-pandemic, many of the classifications were predictable year over year, but the economic impact of COVID-19 has caused a bit of a shake up. Among the surprises this year, Buncombe, New Hanover and Brunswick counties – historically sustained by tourism – slide from Tier 3 to Tier 2.

Why does it matter? Funding.

Some programs use the rankings to direct more assistance to the lower-ranked counties, and matching-fund requirements for state grants are generally lower for those counties as well.  The rankings are based on four factors: average unemployment rate, median household income, population growth rate and property tax per capita.

Read the recent piece on the topic here.

Stephanie Carson

Stephanie Carson is the news and community partnerships manager with Carolina Public Press. Contact her at

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