Tri-Cities add jobs for 7th year, employment and labor force increase

  • Johnson City MSA ends the year with more jobs than it had before the recession. Private sector workers see 8% annual average weekly wage increase.
  • Kingsport-Bristol reclaims 4,817 of the 6,100 jobs it lost during the recession. Private sector workers take 2% annual average weekly wage cut.

The Tri-Cities economy added nonfarm jobs for the seventh straight year in 2017. Preliminary, non-adjusted Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) numbers the seven-county region has replaced all but about 900 of the 10,200 jobs lost during the Great Recession.

December was also the fourth straight month the unemployment rate has been below 4%. The preliminary annual jobless rate was 3.9%. Since those numbers are preliminary, expect revisions in next month’s labor market reports – especially the household numbers.

Annual employment data show there were 3,444 more Tri-Cities residents with jobs in 2017 than there were in 2016 and the improving jobs market resulted in additional 1,295 people joining the labor force.  Pre-recession comparisons for employment are not as good as the nonfarm jobs comparison. There were 15,183 fewer people who said they were employed last year than in 2008. And, there were 23,310 fewer people in the labor force than the most recent high. The 2017 annual labor force numbers also contrast 2016 labor force participation numbers recently released in a Census Bureau report. One factor in the smaller labor force is the number of residents aging out of the labor market.

Last year’s nonfarm job growth rate was 0.6%, down from 0.8% in 2016. The annual employment growth rate was 1.6%, up from 1.2% in 2016 and the labor force grew at a rate of 0.6% compared to 0.5% in 2016.

While 2017 was a pretty good year for the labor market on the regional level, the progress was not evenly distributed. The three-county Johnson City Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) outperformed the four-county Kingsport-Bristol MSA in job creation, employment and average private sector wage growth.


The Johnson City labor market ended 2017 with 350 more nonfarm jobs than it had before the recession. It was also the metro area’s best year for net job gains since the recession – 1,107 more than 2016.

Employment was up by 1,845 over the 2016 annual average, and the improving jobs market pulled in 952 more people than were in the labor force in 2016.

The annual employment growth rate was 2.2%, up from 1.6% in 2016 and the labor force increased by 1.1%, up from 0.9%. The preliminary, non-adjusted annual unemployment rate was 4.3%.

Preliminary numbers for the average weekly private-sector wage show an annual increase of 8.5%, up from 4.2% in 2016. While those increases are big numbers remember Johnson City metro area private sector workers saw their annual weekly average decrease every year from 2012 through 2015. The preliminary average for last year was $666.81. That number will likely be revised when next month’s reports are released.


The economy of the four-county Kingsport-Bristol MSA has added nonfarm jobs for seven straight years. So far it has recovered 4,817 of the 6,100 jobs it lost during the recession. Last year there were 217 more than there were in 2016 as the annual growth rate dropped to 0.2% from 0.6%

Kingsport-Bristol’s annual employment increased by 1,576 people in 2017 and the improving jobs marked brought an additional 346 people into the labor force. The employment growth rate was 1.2%, up from 1% in 2016 and the annual labor force growth rate was 0.3% down from 0.5%. The preliminary, nonadjusted annual employment rate was 4.2%.

Private sector workers in the metro area saw their annual average weekly wage decline by 2% last year. The weekly average was negative for 10 straight months last year. November posted a 1% gain. December was unchanged from December 2016. Last year’s average weekly wage decline followed a 3% annual increase in 2015 and a 1.6% increase in 2016. The preliminary 2017 weekly average was $635.23, down from $648.23.