New county tier designations show changes
The N.C. Department of Commerce released its new “tier” ratings used to assess each county’s level of “economic distress” for economic development programs.
The report serves as a good indication of how each of the 100 counties is faring economically. The rankings factor in the unemployment rate, median household income, population growth and assessed property value per capita.
A total of 90 counties are staying in their current tier, with Tier 1 as the most “economically distressed” and Tier 3 as the most prosperous. Here are the 10 counties that are changing.
- Mountainous Avery and Swain counties are moving from Tier Two to Tier Three because of their improving population growth rate.
- Caldwell County is moving from Tier One to Tier Two thanks to a better unemployment rate.
- Cleveland County is moving from Tier One to Tier Two thanks to lower unemployment and higher household income.
- Pasquotank County is shifting from Tier One to Tier Two due to improvements in household income.
- Onslow and Transylvania counties are moving from Tier Two to Tier One thanks to a higher unemployment ranking.
- Pitt, Randolph and Surry counties are shifting from Tier Two to Tier One due to a decline in median household income.
McHenry, Foxx in line for key committee chair posts
As most expected, U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry was picked by GOP leaders to serve as chair of the House Financial Services Committee next year. He’s been the ranking Republican on
“As chairman, I will pursue an innovation and opportunity agenda,” he said in a news release. “We will focus our efforts on conducting appropriate and aggressive oversight of the Biden administration, as well as pursuing bipartisan legislation to put Americans back in control of their personal financial data, enhance capital formation opportunities, and develop a comprehensive regulatory framework for the digital asset ecosystem.”
McHenry might not be the only member of the North Carolina delegation with a powerful gavel next year. U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx could chair the House Education and Labor Committee. Politico reports that she got a waiver to run for that position, avoiding term limit rules.
FCC’s broadband maps could be inaccurate
The Federal Communications Commission recently released a draft of its new broadband infrastructure maps, which it calls “the best picture available to date of where broadband is and is not available across the country.”
The maps online paint a surprisingly rosy picture of high-speed internet availability in North Carolina, labeling most areas as having “100% coverage” with the exception of a few sparsely populated spots near the coast and in the far western mountains.
It’s also not an accurate picture, according to the N.C. Department of Information Technology’s Division of Broadband and Digital Equity.
“It overstates broadband‘s availability even more than the FCC’s current maps,” deputy secretary Nate Denny says. He said the data factors in the availability of satellite internet, and while that’s a piece of the broadband puzzle, “it’s not necessarily reliable yet and it’s not necessarily affordable yet.”
Denny says he’s hopeful the FCC will make major improvements in the maps before they’re used to determine future federal funding allocations for broadband. His agency will weigh in with the data it has collected. “It’s a good step in the right direction, but it needs a lot more work” he said.
Fortunately, state government doesn’t have to wait for the map-based federal $42 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment, or BEAD, program, to launch before it makes major strides in expanding broadband access.
The GREAT grant program has issued $270 million in new grants in recent months, and now NCDIT is working on the new Completing Access to Broadband program, which will involve partnerships with county governments.
Legislative committee favors more computer education
Should computer science classes be required as one of the UNC System’s undergraduate admission requirements?
The N.C. House Select Committee on Advancing Women in STEM is considering the change. The committee, formed this year and led by Rep. Erin Paré, R-Wake, wrapped up its work by recommending two draft bills for this year’s long session.
One of the bills would require the UNC Board of Governors to study “whether to incorporate one or more computer science courses into the minimum course requirements for admission as an undergraduate student.” UNC leaders would report their findings to a legislative oversight committee.
The bill comes after the committee heard a presentation from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction that the state has “close to 30,000 unfilled jobs that require some type of computer science and, by 2040, more than 70% of all jobs will require a background
in computer science.”
The committee’s report also encourages the legislature to increase computer science course availability in K-12 schools by offering stipends and higher pay to teachers who train to teach those classes.
The second draft bill would appropriate $1 million to create a competitive grant program to expand middle-school STEM offerings. As many as 20 school districts would receive some the funding. ■