Tri-Cities economy adds 2,000 jobs in February, growth rate trend slower

Tri-Cities employers added 2,000 in February, employment was up by 4,243, the labor force grew by 3,960, and the unemployment rate dipped to 3.9%. It was the sixth time in the last 12 months unemployment has been below 4%.

Compared to February last year, the preliminary number of non-adjusted nonfarm jobs is down by 500, but employment is up 4,429. During the past year job creation has brought an additional 1,407 people into the labor force.

From a trends perspective, the three-month moving average declined in January and February, and the monthly year-over-year change has been negative for five straight months. Although nonfarm jobs are being created the February job creation trend rate was at the lowest level since October 2016.

There were 2,000 fewer nonfarm jobs in February than there were in February 2008.

The number of people employed is 16,968 below the pre-recession high, and the labor force is down 20,786. Much of the labor force loss can be attributed to the region’s aging population.

Outsourcing, contract employees, part-time work, and employers looking for employees with higher skill sets and who can pass drug tests continued as the some of the region’s hot-button labor market issues. Although job creation is progressing more low-paying job are begin generated than the prized high-paying jobs. There are ample job openings but not fining the job they want continues to be a common complaint. Simply put, the labor market is improving for some – but not all workers.


The three-county Johnson City MSA added 1,100 nonfarm jobs in February, employment was up 2,245 from December, and the unemployment rate dropped to 4%.

Compared to February last year, employment was up by 1,510, the labor force grew by 214 people, and there were 900 more nonfarm jobs.

The jobs moving average declined for the second month, and the monthly year-over-year comparison is down 0.4%. That metric has been negative since December.

February’s year-over-year labor sector comparisons show the Transportation and Utilities and Construction sectors continue to have the metro area’s strongest performance. The sector with the biggest loss was government. Financial services also decline. Other Services and the Information Sector continued weak performance.


The four-county Kingsport-Bristol’s nonfarm job total was 900 better than January and employment increased by 1,998. The labor force grew by 1,848 people, and the unemployment rate was 3.9%.

Compared to February last year nonfarm jobs were up by 400. Employment was up 2,919, and the labor force grew by 1,203 people

Kingsport-Bristol’s nonfarm jobs trend was up by 0.1% in February coming off of a 0% year-over-year growth in January. That’s not a bad as it sounds considering it was negative for the preceding four months.

Job sector performance in Kingsport-Bristol showed a decline in construction jobs. Retail Trade and Transportation and Utilities posted gains and although the Information sector was still below last year’s lever it’s was as significant as it was in January.

Year-over-year sector performance can be tracked with MTSU employment heat charts:


Johnson City MSA

February’s unemployment rates for the regional cities and counties were:

Bristol – 3.6%.

Johnson City – 3.5%.

Kingsport – 4.1%.

Carter Co. – 4.5%.

Greene Co. – 4.6%.

Hawkins Co. – 4.2%.

Johnson Co. – 4.3%.

Sullivan Co. – 3.9%.

Unicoi Co. – 5.4%.

Washington Co. – 3.7%.