Tri-Cities business pattern study shows retail trade, construction firms biggest losses since recession

A recently released Census Bureau Business Pattern report puts some context to ongoing discussions about how the Tri-Cities and its metro areas are weathering recovery from the Great Recession. The study period is 2007-2014, so it misses much of last year’s activity, but it adds dimension to understanding the changes the Great Recession foisted on the regional economy and how the recovery is remodeling the local economic landscape.

The report uses several benchmarks so to make the numbers a little easier to digest I’ll break it down to three reports. This first look focuses on the number of businesses in 20 categories. The next installment will be on employees then the annual payrolls of businesses in each category.

It’s no surprise that the total number of businesses declined, but a drill down on the data offers a better look at where we lost ground and where we gained. Seven business categories showed growth since the recession, one was unchanged while the rest were in the red. For the most part, the type of businesses that increased are in the same category for both metro areas. But there are exceptions.

The total number of businesses in the seven-county region is down 635. The largest metro area – Kingsport-Bristol – took the hardest hit, down 444 businesses, while the Johnson City metro total is down 191.

Retail trade commands the largest share of total businesses in each metro area.

Retail has an 18.6% share in the Johnson City metro area and an 18.3% share in Kingsport-Bristol

Other services have the second largest share – 12.7% in Johnson City and 11.8% in Kingsport-Bristol. The capsule view used later in the report reviews what type for firms are in this category.

The third largest share belongs to health care and social assistance – 12.3% in the Johnson City metro and 11.9% in Kingsport-Bristol.

Here’s a capsule look at the number of firms lost ranked by the largest losses.


The Great Recession’s biggest bite came in the retail trade category. Looking past the churn of ribbon cuttings and grand re-openings, there are 199 fewer retailers in the seven-county region than the year before the recession. As expected, Kingsport-Bristol took the biggest hit. For every retailer the Johnson City metro lost, Kingsport-Bristol lost a little more than three. This sheds some light on why the Johnson City metro commands the largest share when the retail sales numbers are parsed.


A total of 188 construction firms bit the dust during the recession due to less infrastructure work and a new home sector that’s recovering but performing at less than half of its pre-recession capacity. Kingsport-Bristol lost 106 construction firms while Johnson City lost 82.

OTHER SERVICES (except public administration)

This category includes repair and maintenance businesses that include automotive care, personal and laundry services, religious, grant making, civic, professional and similar organizations and private households i.e. cooks, maids, butlers, gardeners, caretakers or maintenance workers.

The number of establishments declined by 87 with almost half of that in Kingsport-Bristol


Kingsport-Bristol lost 44 firms and Johnson City metro lost 39.


This category includes postal service.

Losses total 60 across the region and Kingsport-Bristol accounted for almost all of them (51).


This category comprises firms that do the day-to-day operations of other organizations. Activities include office administration, hiring and placing of personnel, document preparations and similar clerical services, solicitation, collection, security, surveillance services, cleaning and waste disposal.

This category saw almost equal loss of firms in both metro areas. In the Johnson City metro, there are 13 fewer than before the recession. Kingsport-Bristol’s loss was 18 firms.


This is another category where the loss of firms was almost equal. Kingsport-Bristol is down 15, and the Johnson City metro is down 14.


This category includes firms that offer legal advice and representation; accounting, bookkeeping, and payroll; architectural, engineering and specialize design jobs; computer services; consulting services; research services; advertising services; photographic services; translation and interpretation services; veterinary services and other professional, scientific and technical services.

The region has 31 fewer firms in this category than it did before the recession. Kingsport-Bristol accounted for 18 of the losses and Johnson City 13.


This group includes performing arts, spectator sports, museums and historical sites.

This is one category where the Johnson City metro area took the hardest hit. It has seven fewer of these types business while Kingsport-Bristol lost three.


There are nine fewer firms in the Tri-Cities; seven fewer in Kingsport-Bristol and two fewer in the Johnson City metro area.


This one of the few categories where one metro gained while the other lost. The total number of firms for the region is 10 fewer than before the recession. However, there were 11 losses in Kingsport-Bristol while Johnson City had one more firm than it had before the recession.


There are seven fewer of these firms in the region. Kingsport-Bristol lost four while Johnson City lost three.


This the largest growth category in the 2007-2014 Business Patterns report. There are 44 more firms than there were before the recession. The Johnson City metro area leads the gains with 23 firms.


This is another category with mixed losses and gains. The 31 new firms in the Johnson City metro area compensate for the loss of 17 firms in Kingsport-Bristol to give the region a net gain of 14.


The region shows a gain of 13 firms – eight in Kingsport-Bristol and five in the Johnson City metro area.


This category included publishing and broadcasting, which saw steep employee losses, but the overall sector increased by nine firms. Twelve in Kingsport-Bristol and three losses in the Johnson City metro area.

Other businesses in this sector include motion picture and sound recording, internet publishing and broadcasting, telecommunications, data processing, hosting and related services.


This sector was flat in the Johnson City metro area, but Kingsport-Bristol had four new firms.


Each metro area had one more firm than they did before the recession.


There was no gain for the region. The Johnson City metro has to more firms than before the recession while Kingsport-Bristol is down two.


Not sure what to say about this category other than there are seven more firms in the Johnson City metro area and six in Kingsport-Bristol.





  1. Ken Rea says:

    Good to know this information.

    [image: FTDD]

    Ken Rea

    First Tennessee Development District

    Northeast Tennessee Economic Development Corporation

    3211 N. Roan St.

    Johnson City, TN 37601


    *From:* Core Data [] *Sent:* Wednesday, July 13, 2016 1:45 PM *To:* *Subject:* [New post] Tri-Cities business pattern study shows retail trade, construction firms biggest losses since recession posted: “A recently released Census Bureau Business Pattern report puts some context to ongoing discussions about how the Tri-Cities and its metro areas are weathering recovery from the Great Recession. The study period is 2007-20014, so it misses much of last yea”

  2. Thanks Ken. Looking forward to seeing you at the next Data Center meeting


  1. […] This is not is not an employment category that’s high on the public’s radar, but when you look at the job descriptions you’ll see there are some reasonably well-paying jobs) A breakdown on the sector can be found in the first part of the Business Pattern story . […]

  2. […] Retail Automation: Stranded Workers? Opportunities and risks for labor and automation. All the talk about how retail jobs have sucked the life out of the local jobs economy is more myth than fact. Johnson City MSA retail GDP up 29.4% – Kingsport-Bristol up 5.7% since 2001 Kingsport-Bristol, Johnson City MSA manufacturing real GDP better than it was in 2001 with a lot fewer employees Tri-Cities business pattern shows retail trade, construction firms biggest losses since recession […]

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