Pender County officials hope legislation will help change the area’s economic status as one of the best in North Carolina, especially with bustling Wilmington so close by.
For 2022, Pender County received a Tier 3 ranking from the NC Department of Commerce, meaning it is among 20 other counties “Least Concerned” by a statewide ranking system. The other designations are 40 counties at Tier 1, “high economic distress,” and another 40 at Tier 2, “moderate economic distress.” Designations are mandated by state law and govern a variety of government funding opportunities to support economic development.
Last year, Pender County leaders disagreed with Pender being a Tier 3 county, particularly with New Hanover and Brunswick counties being placed in Tier 2, which meant Pender was in a better financial position. However, officials also pointed out that Pender is losing money as people go to Wilmington for services and shopping.
It was also found that 75% of the population works outside of Pender County.
County levels in the state are calculated using average unemployment (4.55% for Penders), median household income ($60,044), population growth (3.87%) and adjusted property tax base per capita ($132,809).
For the 2022 rankings, both Brunswick and New Hanover have been moved from Tier 2 to Tier 3. The change for Brunswick came from the county’s unemployment ranking, which was moved from 11th to 21st, according to a report by the NC Department of Commerce. New Hannover’s move was also due to the unemployment rate, which moved from 49th to 72nd place.
On behalf of the Pender County North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Director Mark Seitz made several presentations about other additions to consider. Local officials would like to add county trade pull factors (CTPF) and sales tax, among other things. This would put Pender in a Tier 2 position, which could mean more funding for the county.
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“We’re losing a lot of revenue,” he said, while pointing out other economic factors to the commissioners. “And again, it’s not just Pender County. There are other counties in the state that are affected in this way.”
Population growth and employment figures are important factors in the ranking. Seitz also addressed the differences between rural western Pender and eastern Pender, which is closer to Wilmington and the Hampstead and Topsail Island growing areas.
“You just don’t have the population density, family income, etc. over there compared to the east side of the county,” he said.
During a previous meeting of the Pender County Board of Commissioners, District 16 Assemblyman Carson Smith said he supports the use of pull factors to calculate animal status and is introducing a bill to include those factors.
“There’s a lot of money and funding tied to the determination of this county,” Smith said. “Because we’re designated Tier 3, we’re missing out on a lot of things.”
From 2021:On a “Tier 3” island: Pender County officials are questioning the state’s economic standing for the area
Along with other sponsors of the bill, Smith, who represents residents of Pender and Columbus counties, urged the state assembly to consider different rural areas. House Bill 870 requires that any county whose county is 30% or more in a rural census area be automatically excluded from ranking as a lowest county. It was submitted in 2021 and sent to a committee for further review.
Smith brought in research and mathematics from Seitz and proponents of the extension to add more criteria to the formula. He said it will be filed in 2023.
“That sounds great, hunky-dory and beautiful, but as you can imagine there are 20 Tier 3 counties and 60 Tier 1 and Tier 2 counties – none of them want to be Tier 3,” he said . “If you’re trying to get half of a chamber to vote for something where more than half of the chamber represents Tier 1 and Tier 2 counties, it’s extremely difficult because someone is going to lose if they’re from Tier 2 to Tier 3 transitions especially.”
He also asked Pender commissioners to contact the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners on the matter and support the bill to move it forward.
“But I think if you try that, you’re going to experience the same setback that I did,” he said of the challenges.
Smith was unavailable for further comment on plans for the law.
Using a formula evaluating local and sales tax receipts and population counts, Pender County would have a CTPF of 0.71. A CTPF of less than 1 means the division is losing revenue.
Trade Area Capture (TAC), a measure of the county’s population of 65,146 people multiplied by the CTPF, shows that the county’s purchasing power is more than 45,000 residents, which is about 20,000 fewer than the actual number.
The market share percentage shows that the county’s economy accounts for 0.43% of the state’s total sales tax revenue. Percentage market share is determined by dividing the TAC by the total TAC for all 100 NC wards.
According to data, five counties account for nearly 40% of the state’s market share. New Hanover finished fifth with 3.27%. The top four are Mecklenburg (14.87%), Wake (12.91%), Durham (4.91%) and Buncombe (3.52%).
If CTPF, TAC, MS were added to the state’s formula for determining tier status, Pender would be a Tier 2 county. For someone unfamiliar with the Cape Fear region, Smith said the issue can be difficult for people to understand.
“But if you know this area, you know that New Hanover and Brunswick have a much, much more vibrant, healthy economy than we do, and it’s not our fault, it’s just the way things are happening right now,” Smith said. “We’re growing, who knows where we’ll be in 10 or 20 years, but right now you can’t tell me that we’re doing a lot better economically in this county than New Hanover and Brunswick.”
In addressing the plans to the commissioners, Smith said he wanted a fair process in determining the counties’ economic development based on tier status.
“But sometimes fairness doesn’t work when you have to vote for me and it’s going to hurt your county,” Smith said.