Tri-Cities jobs market getting back to business

2 minute 30 second read.  

The Tri-Cities’ half-full economic cup is beginning to fill up.

Employers added 1,100 jobs in March. At the same time, they’re trying to fill another 5,661 openings in an economy that’s thriving thanks to a federal stimulus, extended unemployment benefits extensions, and a surge of news about economic growth. It’s not a boom yet. But it’s a loud rumble.


There was a speed bump on what’s beginning to look like a smoother road to recovery. One of March’s two labor market reports pointed to 700 fewer people employed than in February. The labor force also made a small retreat. And the headline unemployment rate bumped up to 5.2%. But when the employment report and the payroll reports are telling different stories, it’s a smart bet to go with the jobs report. It has more statistical muscle.

The 12-month job sector change in tracks labor market high and low points. Clicking on the chart renders a larger file.

March was a good month for job creation. But as far as month-over-month job gains, it was only average. Still, it was the second bounce-back month after January’s slump. The market has recovered 11,600 of the 18,500 jobs it lost last April.


And the battered service sector is beginning to awaken from its COVID-induced slumber.  It added 1,900 jobs in the last two months. It’s still 800 jobs shy of where it was in March last year and a little over 8,000 short of last year’s annual total. But things are looking up. Restaurant parking lots are getting crowded as the economy is being unmasked. The big question is when will all the good news and growth lure workers back to the fold?


Here’s where the bogeymen are unmasked. There are some core challenges to filling open jobs.

  • Some workers don’t have the needed skills.
  • Others aren’t interested in returning to work as long as they can make it on stimulus funds and extended unemployment.
  • Workers are aging out of the labor force or being aged out by employers looking to cut labor costs.
  • And then there’s the region’s reputation for being a low-wage stronghold. How long will open jobs paying $10 an hour cut it when more and more workers are on a $15 an hour threshold? Are we on the tipping point to end the region’s wage stagnation?


The local labor market added jobs in every sector except Professional and Business Services in March. It was down by 100 jobs in the three-county Johnson City metro area. But the percent changes in the past 12 months heat chart point to a Johnson City metro area as the jobs growth standout.

Currently, the labor demand for both areas is classified by Jobs4TN as medium.

The most recent count shows 2,240 open jobs. The top five firms with open jobs are:

  • Food City – 126.
  • ETSU – 82
  • State of Franklin Healthcare – 76
  • BWX Technologies – 54
  • Lowe’s – 49.

There are 3,421 open jobs in the two-county Tennessee portion of the Kingsport-Bristol metro area. The top five companies are:

  • Food City – 225
  • Eastman Chemical – 117
  • McDonald’s – 114
  • CVS Health – 85
  • Ballad Health – 78

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Categories: LABOR MARKET