Projected job growth rates would put Tri-Cities in the slow growth lane


By DON FENLEY

The Tri-Cities has been waiting for over a year for the improving national jobs market to trickle down and lift it out of a slump that began early in 2012. So it’s no wonder the recently released study IHS Global Insights did for the U.S. Conference of Mayors kicked local hopes into high gear.

The study projects 1% jobs growth for the Johnson City MSA this year and 0.85% growth for Kingsport-Bristol. If it materializes it’s great news. But it’s going to take more than that to get the Tri-Cities jobs level back to where it was before the recession – if in fact that ever happens.

IHS thinks 199 metro areas will be back at prerecession levels this year. At the full projected jobs growth rates for the Tri-Cities neither local MSA will be among the 199.

Locally, if the Johnson City MSA sustains a 1% per year growth rate it could be back to 2008 levels in four years. Kingsport-Bristol would be there in about three years if it sustains an annual 0.85 growth rate.

Both local MSAs had that type – and better – jobs growth in the years before the recession, but those were an era that becoming increasingly foreign to today’s economy with a tidal wave of aging workers moving into retirement or semi-retirement and a resetting of the region’s traditional job creators to employment levels that rely almost as much on technology and outsourcing as they do full-time workers.

That’s not to say new jobs are not being created because they are. And some of them are the high-quality, pay-paying jobs everyone says they want. But the reality is employers are routinely recruiting to fill those jobs because they say they’re not finding that type talent on the local market. At the same time, one of the toughest jobs college advisors and professors have is convincing some of the local best-and-brightest that they will have to leave the area to find opportunities in their fields. The bottom line is the bulk of the post-recession job have not been anywhere near the quality of pre-recession jobs.

Of course the efforts of local community colleges are and will continue paying off by filling in the labor force ranks. In reality that’s the precise type solution for structural employment problems, but its big success is over the long haul. What’s more important is how will these new jobs effect the current stagnant wage structure? A thriving middle-class is a key driver of economies that are dependant on consumption as ours is.

Barring the local community development folks finding some sort of major job creating machine the most likely outlook is for conservative jobs growth and a lot of continued nail-biting as the local economy rights itself to whatever its new normal is going to be. The only thing that is pretty much assured is that the new normal won’t be dominated by the good-paying, blue-collar jobs market the most of the locals who are in their 50s and 60s would love to see again.

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