North Carolina County Trade Pull Factor Report – November 2022

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Executive Summary

Each year, the North Carolina Department of Commerce divides the state’s 100 counties into three tiers to indicate their level of economic distress or prosperity. Forty counties are placed in Tier 1 (most distressed) and 40 in Tier 2 (moderately distressed). These counties qualify for many state and federal rural development grant programs. The 20 counties in Tier 3 (least distressed) do not.

Currently, four factors are used in determining a county’s tier status: median household income (MHI), population growth (POP), unemployment rate (UI) and per capita property tax value (PTV). Data are ranked and given an index value of 100 (strongest) to 1 (weakest). Those index values are added together to give the economic tier status of North Carolina counties. The formula is: Tier Rank = MHI + POP + UI + PTV. The total score is then ranked from 100 to 1 and separated by Tier 3, Tier 2 and Tier 1 status.

While they are strong indicators of a county’s economy, these factors do not account for the creation and migration of wealth between counties. Adding County Trade Pull Factors (CTPF), a measure of per capita sales and use tax collections, Trade Area Capture (TAC), a measure of the spending strength of a county, and Market Share Percentage (MS), a measure of the county’s impact on the state’s economy, to the tier formula would help stakeholders quantify what they intuitively know about a county’s economy, that large urban counties pull business and wealth out of rural, small counties. Adding pull factors to the state’s tier calculation will improve the measure of the influence urban counties have on their rural neighbors. The new formula would be:

Tier Rank = MHI + POP + UI + PTV + CTPF + TAC + MS.

This report uses CTPF, TAC and MS calculations for FY 2021-22 (July 1 to June 30) to study the economic pull of the retail sector in five Tier 3 North Carolina counties to demonstrate the utility of adding CTPF, TAC and MS to the state’s formula.

  • Mecklenburg County. The city of Charlotte, NC is in Mecklenburg County. It has the second largest population (1,160,170), a CTPF of 1.44, sixth largest, which creates the largest economic impact TAC (1,665,421) of any county in North Carolina. That combination results in 15.41% (MS) of the state’s economy. Without pull factors it ranks 16th in the state in terms of economic distress, fourth lowest in standing among Tier 3 counties. With pull factors added to the tier formula it ranks 98th, 3rd largest economy in the state in terms of retail strength and economic impact.
  • Dare County. The county’s permanent population grew 1.1 percent (65th largest in North Carolina) to 38,215 in 2022. Despite the population growth, Dare County’s economic strength lies with its natural resource: the Outer Banks, a phenomenal tourist attraction for people from all over North Carolina, the United States and the world. County residents benefit from the economic pull of the Outer Banks, measured by the highest CTPF in North Carolina at 3.25. Under the NC Commerce Department’s system, Dare County is a Tier 2 county (78) but adding pull factors shows the impact of its 3.25 CTPF. That pull results in a county with the spending power (TAC) equivalent to a county with a population of 124,027 (81) and its MS generates 1.15% (81) of the state’s economy. With pull factors added to the state’s formula its overall index rank increases from 80th to 88th, moving it from the top Tier 2 county to the 12th largest Tier 3 county.
  • Macon, Pender, and Camden Counties. All three are Tier 3 counties in 2022 under the current state formula. But two factors: total population and retail strength limit their economic standing. Macon County’s CTPF of 1.21 is 10th highest (90) in the state, reflecting the economic pull its seasonal tourism business offers. Pender County’s CTPF of 0.71 is (53) due to its proximity to New Hanover County (Wilmington). Camden County’s CTPF of 0.44 is 90th (10) indicating it is a very rural county with little retail business. But its open space and proximity to places like Norfolk, VA and the Outer Banks attracts wealth and large estate development. Their TAC and MS rankings are both 53rd. When adding pull factors rankings to the state’s formula Macon County’s ranking drops to 77th, Pender County to 76th and Camden County to 51st.

This report shows that if the pull factors CTPF, TAC and MS were added to the formula for calculating tier status, in 2022 three counties: Macon, Pender and Camden would drop from Tier 3 to Tier 2, replaced by Dare, Forsyth and Catawba, and ten counties would drop from Tier 2 to Tier 1. Making these changes better reflects the level of economic dominance and or distress a county is in as it considers the metrics currently used by the NC Commerce Department to determine economic distress. And these adjustments create opportunities for the less influential counties to pursue state and federal funding for rural development.

The full report with information about all 100 North Carolina counties can be found here: