Rutherford County seal

RUTHERFORDTON — Out of North Carolina’s 100 counties, Rutherford is the 27th most “economically distressed,” according to data released this week from the North Carolina Department of Commerce. Rutherford County remains designated a “Tier One” county along with 39 others considered most distressed in the state.

All counties are mandated by law to be ranked and grouped as Tier One (40 counties); Tier Two (40 counties) or Tier Three (20 counties). Tier Three counties are those considered to be in the best shape economically.

The tier rankings are based on four economic factors analyzed by the Department of Commerce: unemployment rate, median household income, population growth, and assessed property value per capita.

While Rutherford County’s tier designation remains the same, some counties showed improvement (Beaufort, Camden, Carteret, Chowan, Jones, Macon, Onslow, Perquimans, Pitt, Polk, and Transylvania); while others moved to a more distressed tier ranking (Alexander, Brunswick, Buncombe, Burke, Cherokee, Davie, Haywood, Hoke, New Hanover, Randolph, and Rowan).

While being dubbed economically distressed is not usually considered positive, the designation does put Rutherford County in a better position when it comes to obtaining some state and federal economic development grants.

“While we continue working towards achieving the Tier Two designation, remaining in Tier One affords Rutherford County more funding opportunities from state and federal resources,” said Birgit Dilgert, Rutherford County Economic Development (RCED) director. “It is also advantageous as it requires less in local matching funds and greater funding per new job created, which will continue to provide us with forward momentum.”

County Manager Steve Garrison said, “Remaining in Tier One status solidifies my believe that it should remain a common goal of RCED, our chambers of commerce, the Tourism Development Authority, county government, the municipalities, Isothermal Community College, Isothermal Planning and Development, and our other community partners to chip away at the four factors that continue to impact Rutherford County as an economically distressed county.

“Based on the N.C. Commerce tier data, it appears that we are seeing some improvement in our adjusted property tax base per capita (currently ranked 53rd out of 100 counties) and our population growth (1.77% increase, ranked 52nd), which parallels our local observation of an improved housing market, increased property sales/transfers, and an increase in new constructions,” Garrison continued.

He says the local focus must continue to be on job creation and workforce readiness, to increase household income and lower the unemployment rate.

Dilgert says despite the Tier One designation, she too is encouraged by some positive signs.

“We are excited to see our county population start to grow again and are encouraged by the strides our local businesses and industries are making,” she said. “Our office is committed to continue working with our community partners to secure higher paying jobs with good benefits for those unemployed or underemployed in Rutherford County.”

Rutherford County Commission Chairman Bryan King also says the Tier One designation will help the county.

“As a result of this designation, Rutherford County is in a better position to develop economically, access public educational resources and obtain quality of life improvements such as expanded broadband in our underserved communities,” King said. “We look forward to working with our state and federal agencies and representatives to this end.”