Covid-19’s bite on Tri-Cities economy – real-time data

It’s a given that Covid-19 is hammering Tri-Cities businesses, the local economy, and many of its residents. To what extent is a guessing game in many – if not most – cases.

We’re firmly in the grip of one of the most significant economic transitions since the Great Depression, and from an information perspective, Tri-Cities residents are getting the short end of the stick.

In an era increasingly driven by data, most of the limited economic information local residents get has a month to one-year or more lag. And even though the region is a fairly large market, it’s broken into two Metropolitan Statistical Areas that are small enough in population to be excluded from many significant reports.

Fortunately, some folks at Harvard are trying to change some of that.  Economics professor Raj Chetty is the director of Opportunity Insights, a research group that is coming up with new ways to generate and analyze big data about the economic impact of the pandemic.

Here are three localized samples that offer a first-look at some numbers that add context into what local residents, small businesses, and policymakers are facing.


Percent change in small business revenue. The percent change is indexed to Jan 4-21 2020 data and seasonally adjusted. These numbers are from the Aug. 4 report. The Aug. 10 update was being made when this was written.

Carter – down 47.4%

Greene – down 14.9%

Hawkins – up 4.6%

Sullivan – down 11%

Washington Co. TN – down 15%

Scott VA – down 32.9%

Wise – down 30%

Washington Co. VA – down 39%


The businesses are defined as ones having financial activity. It’s indexed to Jan. 4-31 data and seasonally adjusted. These numbers are from the Aug 6 an Aug 10 update was underway when this was being written.

Carter – down 44.3%

Greene – down 17.7%

Hawkins – down 8%

Sullivan – down 13.5%

Washington TN – down 26.9%

Scott VA – down 34.8%

Wise – down 6.9%

Washington VA – down 14.6%.


This is the change in average consumer credit and debit card spending indexed to Jan 4-31 data and seasonally adjusted. The next update is today (Aug 11).

Carter – up 4.9%

Greene – down 15%

Hawkins – up 6.5%

Sullivan – up 6%

Unicoi – down 18.8%

Washington TN – down 0.9%

Scott – up 5.9%

Wise – up 1.8%

Washington VA – up 3.2%

The increases in spending in some counties and not others are being explained as some of the effects of the of state and federal unemployment benefits. The positive impact is most noticeable in areas with a higher number of lower-income residents.

An interview with Dr. Chetty and a more detailed description of the data and the research project can be found at https://www.wbur.org/onpoint/2020/08/10/raj-chetty-small-business-economics-coronavirus 

This is a very small sampling of the data available. Tomorrow I will explore changes in employment for low-income wage earners.


Categories: ECONOMY

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  1. COVID-19 turns Tri-Cities commercial real estate market upside down

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