Kingsport-Bristol blows the doors off Feb. sales tax collections

Kingsport-Bristol Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) sales tax collections were up an eye-popping 15.6% over February last year and 17.6% better than January following a disappointing beginning of the New Year performance.

Both month-over-month and year-over-year collections as reported by MTSU and the State Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations eclipsed seasonally adjusted performance of all the other state metro areas.

February’s collections raised Kingsport-Bristol’s year-to-date performance 7.1% better than the first two months of last year and heads-and-shoulders above the region’s other metro areas.

The Johnson City MSA collections were 1.7% better than last year and a 6.3% improvement over January. The three-county metro area’s share of collections in the seven-county region also dropped to a decade low – 45.3%.

Kingsport-Bristol collections have been stronger than Johnson City almost every month since January last year, but Johnson City sustained a consistent 48% to 49% share of collections – until February.

So, what’s driving Kingsport-Bristol’s new-found collection strength?

The first thing to watch will be upcoming adjustments. Typically there’s some change in collections totals after the initial reporting, but more often than not they are small compared to the February increase.

The Pinnacle continues to grow, and although it has atrophied some of Kingsport’s retail muscle, it has helped grow the metro area’s retail performance.

Another retail sales increase driver can be found in the Census Bureau’s 2017 population estimates.  That report estimates the population of Sullivan Co. led the region with an 823 person increase. Hawkins Co. added another 93. At the same time Washington Co. added 568 residents while Carter Co. grew by 30 and Unicoi was up 94. That gave Kingsport-Bristol a net gain of 206 new residents. The SW Va. population estimates are not part of this comparison since the sales tax collections were from Tennessee.

Census data puts the region’s per capita retail sales at $13,443, so there’s something else play besides the population growth estimates. And MTSU’s numbers are seasonally adjusted but hasn’t been February’s type month over month increase in a decade. Job creation, employment and private sector wages in the Johnson City Metro area consistently outperformed Kingsport-Bristol last year. At the same time, Kingsport-Bristol’s housing market outperformed the Johnson City MSA, but while real estate accounts for about 30% of consumer spending, it’s not part of the retail sales component. However, some of the additional revenue generated by home sales and the economic multipliers would account for a bump in sales tax collections.

This is something local government and civic leaders will be closely watching for the next couple months to see its collections moderate or the uptrend continues to build.

Here’s how February’s year-over-year collections looked.

  • Kingsport-Bristol, up 15.6%.
  • Knoxville MSA, up 3.3%.
  • Johnson City MSA, up 1.7%.
  • Morristown, down 2.9%.

Here’s how the NE Tenn. collections looked compared to January:

  • Kingsport-Bristol, up 17.6%.
  • Johnson City MSA, up 6.3%.
  • Knoxville MSA, up 4.8%.
  • Morristown MSA down 6.8%.

Statewide collections were 5.1% better than February last year and down 0.3% from January.