Tri-Cities economic recovery marching to its own drummer


By DON FENLEY

MTSU job heat charts offer another view of Tri-Cities economic recovery

Some parts the Tri-Cities economy sat on the sidelines in 2014 waiting for a lift from the rising national recovery. And in some cases, they’re still waiting.

There was recovery and improvement, just not the across-the-board kind that was the norm in yesteryears’ recession recoveries. Things are good to very good for some sectors and individuals, but not others.

An outside view that did a pretty good job of assessment came from the National Association of Counties. They set their number crunchers to work collecting data from every county in the nation to gauge recovery against four benchmarks: jobs, unemployment, GDP and median home prices.  The study shows only 2.1% of the counties nationwide recovered from the recession at each benchmark.

Here in the Tri-Cities the study showed a GDP recovery in Washington and Sullivan counties.  Home prices in the recovery column were: Sullivan, Washington Co. TN, Carter, Johnson, Washington, VA and Wise. No area county made the recovery list in the unemployment or jobs categories.

That report and links to the full study and interactive map can be found at https://donfenley.com/2015/01/13/home-price-recovery-strongest-top-tri-cities-indicator-in-naco-study/

That was followed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ analysis and projection for job creation this year. The expected gain for the Johnson City MSA is 1%. Kingsport-Bristol got a 0.8% number. That would be the rising tide the area has been waiting for because while there was nonfarm job creation in Kingsport-Bristol last year, the losses in the Johnson City MSA halved the annual total for the region.

But job creation is only half the labor market paradox. While there was nonfarm job creation employment and the labor force also declined. Is a double-barrel blast that’s part demographics and part the new landscape for jobs. And many of the jobs that were created came in weakest sectors in the pay and benefits categories.  That can be seen in the stagnant status of private sector wages. But that doesn’t mean there are no good jobs being created. There are, but the lesser quality jobs outnumber them and many of the jobs go to people from outside the area. But that’s not an exclusively local situation. It’s happening almost everywhere.

Another oddity is while the jobs and pay situation looked weak, year-over-year sales tax collections were up for most of the year.  That’s another oddity of the local economy because while the labor market is definitely not performing in sync with the national economy the local sales tax collection pattern aligns with the national pattern.

The MTSU Bureau of Economic Research Center’s labor market heat carts offer a recap of the local jobs situation from a slightly different perspective. It shows a  year-to-year monthly percentage change for each job category that gives a quick graphic summation of the big picture.

A quick review of the two labor market heat charts with the state chart shows the Tri-Cities labor market marched to its own drummer last year.

According to that chart, Kingsport-Bristol saw nonfarm job growth in all but one month.

In December mining, logging and construction closed the year with its 10th straight month of gains – the last four were in the double digits and that’s better than the state performance in that sector.

After that things get a little sketchier.

Wholesale trade, professional and business services and transportation and utilities were in the 2% or slightly better range in December.

That’s was pretty much the end of the jobs good news. The other job categories were in the flat, loss or moderate loss categories.

Manufacturing, the traditional backbone of the Kingsport-Bristol labor market, was flat to moderate loss most of the year.

Nonfarm jobs in the Johnson City MSA were down 0.5% compared to December last year. While there were some months with gains, the losses were greater.

The best job creation category was leisure and hospitality, which was in the growth category all year.

Wholesale trade was up in December and November, but flat the rest of the year.

The big category loser was the information sector and construction took a hit in December.

Government, the Johnson City MSA’s top job provider was down every month last year. The slight silver lining to that cloud is the rate of decline is lessening.

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