Guilford County is a very fine county but it became clear at the Guilford County Board of Commissioners annual retreat that the county is suffering from a bad case of tier-envy.
To be more specific, the state classifies its 100 counties in terms of their overall economic distress, and some Guilford County officials don’t like the company their county is keeping in the rankings. The State of North Carolina uses economic-related criteria to classify the state’s 100 counties as either Tier 1, Tier 2 or Tier 3 counties. The scale is a little counterintuitive because the best off counties – those with the least economic distress – are Tier 3 counties, while the Tier 1 counties are the most financially distressed.
Guilford County used to be a Tier 3 county – as Mecklenburg, Wake and Durham counties still are – but, two years ago, it fell from Tier 3 to Tier 2, causing a blow to some area egos. It wasn’t the first time the county had slipped out of the best class, but it didn’t go over well with some county leaders who now want to see their county back in Tier 3.
The tiered rankings use a formula based on four factors: unemployment rate, medium household income, population growth and the property tax base in relation to the number of people who live in the county.
Guilford County Manager Marty Lawing made it clear to the Guilford County commissioners that he wanted to see the county work its way back into Tier 3.
“That’s where we should strive to get,” Lawing told the board on Monday, Feb. 25 at the retreat.
Lawing said it’s not clear how long it will take the county to make it back. Every year when the tier rankings come out, there are 40 Tier 1 counties, 40 Tier 2 counties and 20 elite Tier 3 counties. Lawing told the board that Guilford County has about 10 counties to surpass to make it back into the top 20 ranking.
David Ramsey, executive vice president of economic development for the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce, pointed out at the meeting that there’s actually a silver lining to being one of the state’s second-class counties.
“Being a two does allow certain extra luxuries and incentives passed out by the state,” Ramsey said. “So you want to be a three from a metrics standpoint, but sometimes a two will allow more programs to recruit people.”
High Point Economic Corp. Development President Loren Hill also said, “You want to be a three for ego’s sake, but, other than ego, being a two means companies are qualified to get more of an incentive from the state when they qualified and are considered for state incentives when they might otherwise not be.”
The economic developers have a point but their argument is a little like saying it’s a good thing to have an annual salary of $15,000 a year because that means you qualify for food stamps.
Hill did admit it hurt some when the county fell.
“It was a kick in the gut to go down,” he said.
Lawing said, “Loren, to me, it’s not ego – it just feels like we should be a Tier 3 county,”
The county commissioners asked staff to explore what steps could be taken to raise the county from a Tier 2 to a Tier 3.
Commissioner Jeff Phillips said beefing up the county in those four relevant categories was something that needed to be done for its own sake regardless of motive.
“We need to see the improvement in every metric you just outlined,” Phillips said, adding that he also wanted to get more information on the underlying causes of the county’s subpar performance in some of the categories.
The Tier 3 counties which the state considers to be in better economic shape than Guilford County are: Brunswick, Buncombe, Cabarrus, Chatham, Currituck, Davie, Durham, Haywood, Henderson, Iredell, Johnston, Lincoln, Mecklenburg, Moore, New Hanover, Orange, Pender, Union, Wake and Watauga.