Most Tri-Cities area residents are native Tennesseans, but the balance is shifting

“You’re not from around here, are you?”

The answer to that question is most local residents are still native Tennesseans, but their share of the total population is slipping and in a couple places the “outsiders” outnumber the natives. And no, Yankees in U-Hauls haven’t dominated the migration to the region. That’s the situation now, but since the area death rate is higher than the birth rate the only population growth the area is getting is by new residents moving here.

Population in the Tri-Cities region increased 0.2% in the years between 2010 and 2017, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS). That’s a weak growth rate, but since eight of the 13 local jurisdictions in the region lost population it beats a sharp stick in the eye. And it shouldn’t surprise anyone that there are fewer native Tennesseans in the region now than there used to be. But there are a few surprises in this drill down on the area demographics.

But first, there are two benchmarking disclosures. The ACS data used is from the five-year sample which means the final number in the 2006-2010 and 2013-2017 reports does not represent the most current conditions. It’s a cumulative picture of the five-year period. The five-year surveys are used because their population benchmark is less than it is for the one-year survey. The second caveat is the Tri-Cities regions used here includes Greene and Johnson counties in NE Tennessee and Wise County and the city of North in SW VA. Those jurisdictions are part of the region’s market place, but not included in the Census Bureau Johnson City, Kingsport-Bristol TN VA Consolidated Statistical Area.

During the period between the two samples most of the region’s jurisdictions lost population here’s how that looks:


Carter, down 1,210

Hawkins, down 160

Johnson, down 344

Unicoi, down 427

Lee down, 1,006

Scott down, 344

Wise, down 1,957

Bristol VA, down 627


Washington TN, up 6,663

Sullivan, up 704

Greene, up 348

Washington VA, up 135

Norton, up 3,609 – That’s right Wise County lost population but the City of Norton added residents.

Across the region, 62.4% of the residents were born in Tennessee. That means that a little more than one-in-three residents “is not from around here.”

There also a false belief that most of the folks relocating here are from the high-tax state in the northeast. But that group only accounts for 6.1% of the population. Still, that share has increased by 0.5% from 2010.

Most of the people who have moved here were born in southern states. They account for 23.7% of the population. But that migration pattern is off 0.4% from what it was in the 2006-2010 period.

Midwesterners outnumber the Yankees in U-Hauls. Their population share is 6.1% and it increased by 0.3% from 2006-2010.

The smallest share of migrants come from the West – 2.1%. It increased by 0.2% in the most current survey.

The 60% plus for Tennessee natives is common in every area except Johnson and Washington counties in NE Tenn. and Scott and Lee counties VA and Bristol VA.

Here’s the share of residents who are not Tennesee natives for each of those jurisdictions.

Johnson – 53.2%

Washington TN – 36.6%

Scott VA – 62.6%

Lee VA – 42.7%

Bristol VA – 53.7%

Norton is the jurisdiction of the highest population share of Tennessee natives – 77.2%, followed by Wise Co. with 73.4%.





3 replies

  1. Very interesting that people find our island in the mountains and move here. I often wonder why. I hope your readers that have moved hear or know someone that moved hear will share there story. Mine is. I moved here from Clearwater Florida where I met my wife and started my family. She was born and raised in Piney Flats. I promised her I would bring her home on day. After 8 years of planning I moved to Blountville to build my business and today have 10 professionals affiliated with my firm of which 7 are locals and 3 relocated from Florida and Maine for family reasons. By sharing our experience perhaps we will understand how to excellerate human capital growth in the region.


  1. Get ready for the most current Census estimates for population – DON FENLEY @ CORE DATA
  2. New comers: Who are they, where are they from, how many? - DON FENLEY @ CORE DATA

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