Since 2007, North Carolina has used a three-level system for designating county development tiers. The designations, which are mandated by state law, determine a variety of state funding opportunities to assist in economic development. This report documents the process for calculating tiers and lists counties that have changed tiers since 2020. A statewide county tier map and tier calculations are included for reference.

How Tier Rankings Are Calculated

The Development Tier Designation statute (§143B-437.08) provides specific guidelines for calculating annual tier rankings. This process assigns each county to a designation of Tier One (most distressed), Tier Two, or Tier Three (least distressed). Assuming no ties in rankings, the statute requires 40 Tier One, 40 Tier Two, and 20 Tier Three counties each year. In the event of a tie for the final position as a Tier One or Tier Two county, both counties will be placed in the lower tier. In the 2021 edition of the Development Tiers, a tie for the 40th position in Tier One means there will be 41 Tier One counties, 39 Tier Two counties, and 20 Tier Three counties.

Tier Rankings use Four Factors

  • • Average unemployment rate for the most recent twelve months for which data are available (October 2019 – September 2020, NC Dept. of Commerce, LAUS)
  • • Median household income for the most recent twelve months for which data are available (2018, U.S. Census, Small Area Income & Poverty Estimates)
  • • Percentage growth in population for the most recent 36 months for which data are available (July 2016 – July 2019, NC Office of State Budget & Management)
  • • Adjusted property tax base per capita for the most recent taxable year (FY 2020-21, NC Dept. of Public Instruction)

Each county is ranked from 1 to 100 on each variable, making the highest possible County Rank Sum 400, and the lowest 4. After calculating the County Rank Sum, counties are then ranked from most distressed (1) to least distressed (100) in order to determine their Economic Distress Rank. Note that the 2018 Appropriations Act (S.L. 2018-5, Section 15.2.(a)) eliminated several “adjustment factors” that will no longer be used to calculate the final tier ranks, adjustments that previously factored small population sizes and poverty rates into the calculations. In addition, §143B-437.07.(d) calls for the Department of Commerce to publish the state performance statistic for each of the four factors, alongside the county values. Any county underperforming the state average on any of the four factors may request assistance from the Department to improve their performance on the given factor. A ranked list of each county’s performance by indicator, as well as the statewide value, is provided at the end of this document. For comparison, counties may also wish to access the 2020 County Tier Designations. For assistance, please contact David Rhoades at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Download the full 2021 North Carolina Development Tier Designations here.