Pitt & Onslow counties now in most economically distressed category

RALEIGH, N.C. (WITN) – The two most populous counties in Eastern Carolina have lost ground when it comes to economic development tier rankings.

The North Carolina Department of Commerce today said both Pitt and Onslow counties will be Tier 1 counties in 2023, down from Tier 2.

Tier 1 counties are generally the most economically distressed.

The rankings are based on the county’s unemployment rate, median household income, population growth, and assessed property value per capita.

By law, the state’s 100 counties are broken down, with 40 counties designated as Tier 1, 40 counties Tier 2, and 20 counties Tier 3.

In Eastern Carolina, only Carteret County is Tier 3, while Beaufort, Craven, and Pamlico counties are Tier 2. All the other counties are Tier 1.

The Department of Commerce said tier rankings determine eligibility for several grant programs as well as channeling funds for infrastructure improvements into more economically distressed areas of the state.

“Based on the progress that Pitt County has made over the last year, this ranking is not reflective of our growth, and other measures would show this more effectively,” said Kelly Andrews, Pitt County Economic Development director.

Andrews said the county has made improvements in three of the four categories this year, but not in the rankings as other counties are also improving.

She said one thing that hurts Pitt County is the tax base per capita category. Andrews explained that because it has one of the largest nonprofit hospital systems and one of the largest universities in the state, Pitt County doesn’t do well in that particular category.

Pitt County Manager, Janis Gallagher, also tells us “Nobody likes being ranked among the most distressed counties, but I continue to maintain that that’s really an unfair assessment.”

For one Pitt County resident, Darthy Crowder, she believes Pitt County has been doing well and has experienced employment growth even in her own family. “It’s doing pretty good. My daughter first moved down here and became a nurse and went on to be a doctor and went to Brody. Nurses and doctors are getting up there.”

Though Pitt County dropping to a Tier 1 may be a downfall in some eyes, Gallagher remains optimistic.

“I think we can take advantage of some of the benefits of being designated in the tier one categories and there are significant benefits.”

That includes eligibility for several grant programs as well as funds for infrastructure improvements.