The 2017 Census Bureau’s latest population estimates put a big grin on the faces of Northeast Tennessee civic leaders. The news wasn’t nearly as encouraging in the SW Virginia portion of the Tri-Cities region.
Every county except Johnson in NE Tennessee had a 2017 population increase. And Sullivan County, which has varied from losses to a small bump in 2016, saw the largest area increase.
Estimates for one year isn’t enough to signal a reversal of the population stagnation that much of the region has seen, but it is a welcome reversal from the past years. The region’s death rate has – and continues to be – higher than the birth rate, so the only population growth has been new residents moving to the area. For the past couple of years, most of that has gone to the three-county Johnson City Metropolitan Statistical Area. Washington County has claimed the lion’s share.
The need for population growth has been a hot-button topic in recent community talks from officials that vary from Alan Levine CEO of Ballad Heath Care to Eastman CEO Mark Costa to a variety of local civic and local government leaders.
The most recent was Levine’s talk at a Kingsport Chamber Fourth Friday Breakfast. While discussing Ballad’s long-term health care plans, he said all of the talk about development was moot unless the region begins to see some population growth.
Washington County was the only county in the Tri-City Virginia area with an increase.
The 2017 population estimates don’t offer any information other than totals. That won’t come until later this year with the one-year American Community Survey reports. However, they do show that Sullivan County is still the largest county in the region. Tennessee State Data Center and University of Tennessee population projections predict Washington County will become the region’s largest by 2020. As of the 2017 report, its almost 3,000 residents shy of that mark.
The NE Tennessee portion of the Tri-Cities region has a population of 502,169 based on the latest estimate. That’s an increase of 1,789 resident from 2016.
The SW Virginia portion totaled 159,322, a decline of 943 residents.
The region’s 2017 total population is 661,491, an increase of 846.
Washington and Sullivan counties are the only counties with a population increase since 2010 Census. Washington County’s 2017 – 2010 gain is 4,420 while Sullivan County’s population has increased by 403.
All of the SW Virginia Counties – and Bristol, Va. – had less population in 2017 than in 2010.