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State rank claims that Lincoln economy is prosperous

SARAH LOWERY
Staff Writer

 

Lincoln County is one of eight counties in the state to shift in economic development tier rankings, according to an announcement issued by the North Carolina Department of Commerce.
For 2012, Lincoln County has been bumped up from a “Tier 2” to a “Tier 3” designation, the latter of which is reserved for the state’s 20 most prosperous counties.
The rankings, which are mandated by state law, are released annually and help “determine a variety of state funding opportunities to assist in economic development,” said the news release.
“Our goal is to encourage economic development statewide so all of our residents can find good jobs regardless of their location in our state,” N.C. Commerce Secretary Keith Crisco stated in the release. “These tier rankings provide important tools that help attract or retain businesses in all parts of North Carolina.”
Nonetheless, Barry Matherly, executive director of the Lincoln Economic Development Association, said the announcement of the county’s new tier ranking is both good and bad news.
The positive news, said Matherly, is that in looking at 100 counties across the state, it was determined that Lincoln County’s economic conditions did improve in 2011. In fact, the county moved quite a few spaces up the list.
“It was a fairly significant jump,” Matherly noted.
The downside is that for the coming year, Lincoln County will receive less state assistance in providing statewide economic incentives. As such, Matherly pointed out that the news is positive for the current year but negative for the year ahead.
Additionally, Matherly noted that as part of the new tier ranking, the county cannot recruit any major data centers.
The rankings are derived from an appraisal of each county’s unemployment rate, median household income, population growth and assessed property value per capita.
Specifically, they “determine the available amount of tax credits for job creation and business property investment in a list of eligible industries,” the release states.
The potential benefits to companies in a county designated as “Tier 3” are a $750 tax credit per new job with a requirement to create at least 15 jobs and a 3.5 percent tax credit for eligible business property expenditures of more than $2 million.
Matherly said that with Gaston and Catawba counties remaining in the “Tier 2” ranking, they will have an “unfair competitive advantage” because they will benefit from more state assistance compared with Lincoln County.
“It’s a huge competitive disadvantage,” he stressed.
In years past, Lincoln County has fluctuated between the two rankings. For the last two years, following the economic downturn, the county dropped to the second tier.
And though Matherly emphasized that moving back up to the third tier is good in that it means the county has improved its economic wealth, he knows the year ahead will bring its challenges.
“It’s unfortunate in such a tough economy that the state would stick to its plan of handicapping certain counties,” he said, later adding that the state should want to reward those counties that are doing well.
Matherly also noted that whereas competition is typically stronger with other states, the county will now have to compete heavily with surrounding counties. And he believes that the state will likely not bring as many leads to Lincoln County next year, as this was the case in previous years when the county was ranked in the third tier.
“I fully expect to get less prospects from the state,” he said.
As a result, the county has strengthened its efforts in recruiting projects directly over the years by focusing on doing its own marketing and building up its business development program. Matherly also said that a “very high percentage” of prospects are generated locally by LEDA’s efforts.
However, state-developed projects typically have a bigger impact on a community by providing more jobs and more investment, and Matherly confirmed that the county received more of these projects during the last two years in the second tier.
Even though Matherly maintains that the state’s economic development tier designations “artificially handicap” counties that are driving prosperity, he said “we’ve been here before” and that there will simply have to be more effort locally.

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