Bristol, Johnson City, Kingsport restructuring: less employment, more part-timers, but there are exceptions

It’s no surprise part-time jobs replaced a bunch of full-time Tri-Cities jobs during the Great Recession. But just-released city-level Census data shows the work status decline isn’t as drastic as the talk you hear on the street. And there are a couple of exceptions to the trend.

Kingsport’s employment is higher than it was before the recession, and Bristol’s labor force increased while the other cities saw declines.

The bottom line is despite what well-intended media call the local jobs recovery isn’t really a recovery. It’s more of a restructuring.  It didn’t reward or punish equally. And if you use real GDP as a measure of the economy the region isn’t at a pre-recession level yet. The Johnson City MSA has seen small two-year increases but is still 1.1% shy of the pre-recession level. The Kingsport-Bristol MSA reached and exceeded its prerecession level in 2012 then began declining. The most current data show it 0.4% higher than the pre-recession peak.

Before we dive into some data comparisons, it has to be pointed out that the data references are about employment and work status, not jobs. Bureau of Labor Statistics jobs data is available at the MSA level, and it shows we’re 1,600 nonfarm jobs short of a pre-recession level.

When you dive into city or county-level data, you get work status and employed. The employment numbers don’t necessarily mean the person works in the city where he or she lives. Someone who lives in Bristol but works in Johnson City is counted in the Bristol employed totals. Fortunately, we’re looking at year-old data, so monthly revisions and an annual readjustment isn’t as big an issue.

Between 2008 – the year before the Great Recession hit the local economy – and the most current American Community Survey Census report the number of working-age people (16-to-64) who usually worked 35 hours a week or more declined in Bristol, TN, Johnson City, and Kingsport.

Remember – the segment this data focuses on is the working-age population only.

Kingsport took the biggest hit, down 8% followed by Bristol – down 5.2%, then Johnson City, down 3.9%.

The number of people working 15-to-35 hours increased in the same order:

Kingsport, up 2.3%.

Bristol, up 1.1%.

Johnson City, up 0.6%.

Bristol led the pack with the share of those who worked 1-to-14 hours a week. The share was up 1.1% while it was 0.9% for Johnson City and Kingsport each.

Kingsport was heads and shoulders above the other cities in the share of people who didn’t work in 2015 and the increase in that work status category from 2008.

In 2015 38% of Kingsport’s working-age population didn’t work, up 12% from 2008.

Those who didn’t work in Bristol was a 28.6% share of the population, up 2.8%.

In Johnson City, 25.2% didn’t work in 2015, up 2.6%.

The mean hours worked also declined in each city.

Kingsport’s 2015 mean was 39.2 hours, down 1.2 hours from 2008.

The mean in Bristol was 37.8 hours, down 1.6 hours.

Johnson City’s mean hours worked was 36.4, down 0.5 hours.

The last phase of this 2015 v. 2008 work status comparison deals with the share of the working-age population in and out of the labor force, and there was a surprise.

The number of working-age people in Bristol’s labor force increased to 57.4% in 2014, up 1.2% from 2008. But that doesn’t mean all of those people were looking for work.

Johnson City’s 2015 share was 59.6%, down 0.2% while Kingsport’s share was 53.3%, down 2.5%.

The number of people out of the 2015 Bristol labor force was 42.6%, down 1.2%.

Those out of the Johnson City labor force accounted for a 40.4% share, up 0.3%.

In Kingsport, 45.7% of the population was not in the labor force, up 2.5%.

Here’s a snapshot version of the 2015 v. 2008 annual employment averages for the three cities:


Employed – 10,832 down 10.3% from 2008 and 1,244 lower than the pre-recession high.

Unemployment rate – 6%, up 1% from 2008 and 2.2% higher than the pre-recession low


Employed – 28,682, down 6.1% from 2008 and down 2,125 from the pre-recession high.

Unemployment rate – 5.9%, up 0.2% from 2008 and 1.9% are higher than the annual pre-recession low.


Employed – 21,021, up 16.8% from 2008 and 2,878 are higher than the pre-recession annual high.

Unemployment rate – 6%, down 0.1% from 2008 and up 1.6% from the annual pre-recession low.


Tri-Cities gets better than average Nov. jobs growth report

Tri-Cities employers added 500 jobs in November. The unemployment rate dropped to 5%, and the jobs growth rate continued trending lower.


Since the base data for these charts is the preliminary, nonadjusted monthly data from the BLS there is a slight revision each month. Those corrections are incorporated into the chart data which is computed with a three-month moving trend to illustrate a trend line. Clicking on the chart renders a larger file.

Preliminary, non-adjusted nonfarm job growth for the seven-county region was up 0.2%  from last year. Job creation turned positive 18 months ago, peaked in March and has slowly drifted lower since them. So far this year, employers have averaged adding 482 jobs a month. The growth is in line with the national labor market, but locally it’s still 1,600 jobs short of the pre-recession high. And the growth pattern isn’t equally shared by the region’s two Metropolitan Statistical Areas.

The three-county Johnson City MSA has been slow to recoup the hit it took during the recession. But job creation in that area has out-performed the four-county Kingsport-Bristol MSA for the past four months. And its monthly totals for September, October and November have been equal to or barely below a pre-recession high. Kingsport-Bristol’s job total is still 1,500 jobs shy of its pre-recession high and it lost ground in October and November.

Average private sector wage status is listed as “not available” for every Metropolitan Statistical Area in the state except Knoxville and Nashville. There’s no explanation on the Bureau of Labor Statistics site, but it looks like an adjustment that goes back to October 2012 is under way.

November’s Tri-Cities 5% unemployment rate was a five-month low.

Employment began picking up in June, peaked in September then synced with the sinking job creation growth rate by trending lower in October and November. The survey used to get the unemployment report is the less accurate labor market indicator, and the rule of thumb is when employment trends in the opposite director of job creation go with the job creation rate.

November’s employment for the region was down 16,667 from the pre-recession benchmark. Much of that can be attributed to the number of people who are no longer in the labor force. There were 18,427 fewer people in the labor force in November than there were in November 2008. According to 2015 Census data released a few months ago, almost 46% of the working age people in the Tri-Cities are not in the labor force. Some of the low labor force participation rate is due to the rapidly aging population. The Tri-Cities is on the leading edge of that demographic dynamic slowly beginning to grip the nation. Another driver is some of the local workers who lost their jobs during the recession do not have the skill sets employers are now seeking. Education efforts have been stepped up, but correcting this structural issue of underemployment in the local labor market is a slow process at best. That’s why it’s more accurate to describe the current labor market and overall economy as a reset from the Great Recession rather than the “recovery” term commonly used by well-meaning media.

Here’s a capsule view of the jobs, employment and unemployment rates for the region’s two MSA, and employment and unemployment rates for the three major cities.


Nonfarm job creation up 100 from October,

Nonfarm jobs compared to November last year – up 900

Employment compared to November last year – up 3,104

Labor force compared to November last year – up 2,750

Unemployment rate – 5.1% – down 0.2%.


Nonfarm job creation – up 400 from October

Nonfarm jobs compared to November last year – down 500

Employment compared to November last year – up 1,493

Labor force compared to November last year – up 1,286

Unemployment rate – 5%, down 0.2%


Employment compared to November last year – up 252

Labor force compared to November last year – up 202

Unemployment rate – 5.2%, down 0.6%.


Employment compared to November last year – up 2,557

Labor force compared to November last year – up 902

Unemployment rate – 4.7%, down 0.2%


Employment compared to November last year – up 479

Labor force compared to November last year – up 509

Unemployment rate – 5.5%, unchanged from October.




Tri-Cities commercial real estate development flat in Q3, shows slow year-to-date improvement over 2015

Year-over-year growth of commercial construction was down by three permits in the third quarter, but year-to-date the market is on a slow-growth pattern similar to the average sales price of single-family residential resales.

The Market Edge’s Commercial Building Trend Report shows single-digit year-to-date permit increases in Sullivan and Washington counties while every other county in the region – except Greene – posted declines.

Northeast Tennessee counties included in The Market Edge’s report for the Tri-Cities Region include Carter, Greene, Hawkins, Sullivan and Washington counties in Tennessee. Scott and Washington County VA are also included. Sullivan posted the largest number of permits and the largest year-to-date increase. The year-over-year Q3 totals show Washington Co. TN with three more permits than Sullivan.

So far, this year 539 commercial permits were pulled the seven-county region. That’s 0.6% better than the first nine months of 2015.

While that’s basically a flat market, this year is a respectable 11.3% increase from the first nine months of 2014 and 4.3% better than 2013.

Here’s a snapshot of county permit activity compared to the first nine months of last year.

Carter – 27, down three.

Greene – 55, up one.

Hawkins – 8, down five.

Sullivan – 205, up 11.

Washington TN – 169, up seven.

Scott – 7, down one.

Washington Co. VA – 61, down five.

The Tri-Cities’ 0.9% increase lagged the Chattanooga and Knoxville regions year-to-date permit performance. Both of those areas saw 5% increases.

According to Northeast Tennessee Association of Realtors President Marsha Stowell, at the end of Q3, there were 1.1 million square feet of commercial space for sale in both the Johnson City and Kingsport-Bristol Metropolitan Statistical Areas.

Lease space in the three-county Johnson City MSA was 1.3 million square feet. In Kingsport-Bristol it was 637,151 square feet, she added.

Glenn Perkins, a commercial Realtor with the TCI Group, said active listing in Washington County have been in a general decline so far, this year while Sullivan County has shown a general uptick over the past 12 months. “Completed transactions for Washington County increased over the first three months of this year and have been on a steady decline since. Sullivan County showed a decline in completed transactions over the first three months of the year with an increase only in May and June followed by a general decline.

Annual lease rates for Washington County dropped in early summer and then after a brief increase has remained flat while days on market have increased significantly Sullivan County has had a slow but general increase over the year while days on market remained relatively stable, although high.

The National Association of Realtors 2017 commercial real estate outlook calls for improvements to begin moving into smaller markets.

Lawrence Yun, chief economists, and K.C. Conway, senior vice president of cred risk management at SunTrustBank, expressed confidence that commercial real estate activity should remain on an upward trajectory, but with more uncertainty given the environment for higher interest rates.

Retail expansion and redevelopment continue with multi-family construction continue to be the most visible signs of commercial real estate development.

Johnson City, Kingsport eek out 2015 population gains; demographic issue weighs on local economy

Census data released last week show Johnson City and Kingsport were the only major cities in the seven-county region to gain population in 2015. And in Kingsport’s case, the gain was only 0.1%.

The news follows earlier reports that show Washington County TN was the only county in the region to see a 2015 population increase.



The reports illustrate a demographic situation that is a major factor that will effect the region’s growth and economy for years to come. It’s also a component of the local restructuring from the Great Recession. Restructuring is used instead of recovery because the region’s economy, some businesses, and individuals haven’t recovered. The sad fact is some never will, but that’s another story.

Simply put, the Phase One of the core demographic issue is for every 10 live births in the region there are 13 deaths. That ratio varies a little from county-to-county, but not much. Demographers call that negative natural growth. And it means that the only population increase the region is seeing is from new comers relocating here.

Phase Two is the graying process that the nation is experiencing.

Look at it this way.

At the beginning of 2011, 10,000 of the oldest members of the Baby Boomer Generation turned 65. Since then, and until 2030, 10,000 Baby Boomers will turn 65 every day.

Since this area’s median age is older than the state or national median we’re on the leading edge of this trend, and it’s an example of when being Number One isn’t much fun.

Here in the Tri-Cities, 130 people a week currently celebrate their 70th birthday. That will continue through 2020. I used 70 instead of 65 because it is quickly becoming the new threshold for retirement – if the individual has a choice in it.



Kingsport Mayor John Clark said at the recent State of the City meeting that his city’s goal is to attract 500 new residents a year. The reason is simple. Kingsport – like other cities – relied on annexation as a growth model until the state legislature pulled the plug on it. Now they have to find another way to grow.

And since the population is the base for local retail sales and services, it has a critical role in a local government budget. In fact, it has earned a place at the economic development table in localities across the nation. That’s especially true in localities like ours where sales taxes are a major source of city and county revenues.

The options are simple. Either growth the population, raise taxes or cut local government employment and reduce services.

The economic and cultural realities of this Gray Tsunami crashing across the region almost endless. For example,

Currently according to Census data, almost 46% of the working age population in the Tri-Cities is not in the labor force. Of course, there are several drivers of this situation, but an aging population is high on the list.

A rule of thumb is the productivity declines with an aging population. That and this region’s restructuring form the Great Recession can be seen in the real GDP of all industries at both local MSAs. That’s important because a more productive population means economic growth.

Kingsport-Bristol’s real GDP moved past its pre-recession peak in  2012. Since then it has declined every year. Compared to 2008 – the year before the Great Recession hit the local economy – it up 0.4%.

The Johnson City MSA real GDP for all industries saw small increases in 2014 and 2015. But it’s still 1.1% less than the pre-recession high.

During the recession, 635 local businesses had closed by 2014.  During the past two years, there’s been a flood of new business opening. It’s encouraging news, and easy to track with new business licenses. But it’s not a complete picture because the number of business closures is not included until the Census Bureau released the 2015 local business patterns data.

Here’s a snapshot of the Tri-Cities demographic makeup based on 2015 Census data.

The GI – or Greatest –  Generation. The youngest at now 85 and they have a 2% share of the total population.

The Silent Generation. The youngest are 70. They account for 11% of the population.

Baby Boomers. The youngest are now 50. They have a 29% share of the local population.

The youngest GenXers are 30. The account for 24% of the local population.

The oldest Millennials are pushing 30, and they have 23% share of the local population.

The Yet-To-Be-Named Generation. The oldest are nine and the account for 5.5% of the local population.




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