Who got the biggest share of Tri-Cities retail sales in 2014?


The surge of retail sales that began last summer continued into the fourth quarter of 2104 and this time there was job creation data behind sales.

2014 shareIn his Q4 Retail Sales Report analysis ETSU economist Dr. Steb Hipple wrote, “In the fourth quarter labor market report, we discussed the data available for employment.  The BBER labor reports are based on the Current Population Survey (CPS) which has been showing declines in regional and local job levels.  A second data source is Current Employment Statistics (CES) and this source shows employment growth in the metro area which matches the turnaround in retail activity.  So the jobs are there, and the retail recovery does have a secure foundation.”

In other words, the CPS – or employment survey used to report the unemployment rate is still out of step. It’s been that way for a while and data watchers are waiting for the annual readjustments due for release next month to see what they may – or may not add – to the story. More about that next month.

According to Dr. Hipple’s report when compared to 2013 “Bristol sales increased 7.5% to $279 million, while Kingsport sales rose 7.4% to $438 million and Johnson City sales were up 4.8% to $556 million.  Adjusted for inflation, sales volume increased 6.2% in Bristol, 6.2% in Kingsport, and 3.5% in Johnson City.  In comparison, retail activity rose 3.9% in the metro area, 5.8% in Tennessee, and 3.0% in the United States.

“The annual data for 2014 reflect the summer and fall turnaround in retail performance.  For the year, dollars sales increased 4.3% in Kingsport to $1,588 million, 3.8% in Bristol to $1040 million, and 1.0% in Johnson City to $1965 million.  Adjusted for inflation, the 2014 sales volume rose 2.7% in Kingsport, 2.1% in Bristol, and 1.0% in Johnson City.”

Local media gave the good news strong coverage. But there’s another aspect to the data that doesn’t get much attention. And it’s worth a look every now and then.

Competition for retail sales is a fact of life in the Tri-Cities. Each of the three cities devotes a lot of attention and effort to boosting and protecting their share. The reason is easy to understand.  Sales tax revenue is the mother’s milk of local government that pays for local services and personnel.

The quarterly or monthly gains or losses give the big picture some clarity, but it’s rare that anyone talks about the who gets the biggest share of the Tri-Cities retail sales pie.

It’s not Bristol – even with the growing pull of the Pinnacle. Nor is it Johnson City, which does get the biggest piece of the pie when cities are compared. And it’s not Kingsport even though the Model City has done the best job of slowly growing their share of the Tri’s Retail Pie.

The counties and smaller jurisdictions outside the city confines of the big three cities account for the biggest share of the Tri-Cities CSA’s retail sales taxes – 33.8% in 2014.

And how has all of the maneuvering and deals cut to attract and retain and grow local retail retailers paid off?

Compared to a 2008 pre-recession benchmark Bristol saw almost $32 million less last year.

Using the same benchmark Johnson City was up $117 million and Kingsport was up almost $143 million. And the aggregated of the jurisdictions outside the big three were up $375 million.

Of the three cities, Kingsport has seen more success in building its annual share of the region’s retail sales. It has increased modestly for three straight years. But Johnson City’s share hasn’t changed more than half of 1% since 2007. Its piece of the pie is consistently 28 plus percent.

And the outsiders?

The annual share has dipped slightly (less than a percent) four time in the 2008-2014 period. Those areas consistently claim slightly better than a third of all retail sales, according to some recrunching of Dr. Hipple’s data. His fourth quarter sales tax report and tables can be found at http://faculty.etsu.edu/hipples/RS14q4.htm




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