Haywood County was more economically distressed this year, according to state rankings that essentially classify the counties from wealthiest to poorest.
But Mark Clasby, executive director for the economic development commission, is far from disappointed about the news.
“I’m very pleased,” said Clasby.
That’s because the lower ranking allows Haywood much greater access to tax incentives that could attract new businesses – and jobs – to the area.
The ranking reflects only a minor move down the line, with the state bumping Haywood down four spots, from 81st to 77th.
“This is all relative to the other 99 counties,” said Deborah Barnes, spokeswoman for the N.C. Department of Commerce, which creates the rankings. “It doesn’t mean your county is in dire shape all of a sudden.”
In fact, median income, property tax base per capita and household income all increased in Haywood County this year, according to Barnes.
“Unfortunately, your unemployment rate went up, too,” said Barnes. Latest statistics show the unemployment rate in Haywood was at 9 percent in October.
Every year, the state Department of Commerce categorizes all counties into one of three tiers. The most prosperous counties in the state (ranked 81-100) are classified as Tier 1, the next bunch (ranked 41-80) are placed in Tier 2, while the most economically distressed counties (1-40) are classified as Tier 1.
Last year, Haywood just barely squeaked into the Tier 3 classification, occupying the last place in a tier containing the state’s wealthiest counties.
Falling a few spots in 2009 means Haywood is now a Tier 2 county again. But Clasby thinks that’s a more accurate assessment anyway.
“I never felt that we were Tier 3 because we’re a rural county,” said Clasby, who referred to Tier 3 counties, like Buncombe, Wake and Mecklenburg, as “major league.”
The rankings make a significant difference when it comes to applying for tax incentives, according to Clasby.
For example, establishing 10 new jobs in a Tier 3 county could mean a potential $7,500 in tax credits for a business.
Companies might be drawn toward developing in a Tier 2 county instead, scoring a potential $50,000 tax credit for the same 10 jobs.
Meanwhile, establishing those ten jobs in a Tier 1 County could mean $125,000 in tax credits.
Clasby said Haywood being in Tier 2 means he has more tools to work with when attracting businesses, but that doesn’t mean he would want Haywood to drop to Tier 1.
“Being near the top of Tier 2, I’m happy,” said Clasby.
Waynesville Mayor Gavin Brown said he had mixed feelings about the ranking change.
“The good news is we have more incentives available. The bad news is that we’re poorer,” said Brown. “It’s like a doctor saying your blood pressure is higher, but you have better medicine to take care of it.”
In Brown’s view, the rankings aren’t likely to have much of an impact since the recession has deterred growth.
“We’re in the middle of an economic tsunami,” said Brown. “Ain’t nobody doing anything anyway.”