Economic Development 101 – Growing The Tri-Cities Population

The Tri-Cities used to have limited recognition as a place for affordable housing in a low cost-of-living area that was a good place to invest in a home and live. That’s not the case anymore. There has been a flood of newcomers. And it may not be over. May is the key phrase because researchers from three national organizations to study migration trends say while people are still moving, they’re staying closer to home or deciding to stay where they are. If that’s so, the pandemic rush to other states is running out of gas. Only time will tell.

Former Kingsport City Manager – now Move To Kingsport guru – Jeff Fleming says strategic new resident recruitment is the key to combat the issue. Here’s how he based his core argument. “The 31 counties in our immediate Appalachian Highlands region (TN-VA-KY-NC) lost a combined 3.3% population from 2010 to 2020. That’s not sustainable. Many seem worried that newcomers will change our culture, but it’s already changing through decline.”

He’s right, and now is the time to take a strategic look at how promotion of a region benefits everyone. New residents and a growing population is economic development.

The 2020-2010 NE Tenn. population numbers looked good for a few Tri-Cities counties if you look at 10-year comparisons. Dial that back to a year-over-year regional trend pattern, and a different picture emerges.


Since 2016, the Tri-Cities has seen population growth. It wasn’t much. But it reversed the back-to-back years of population losses during the early years of the 2010-2020 decade. The seven-county Combined Statistical Area (CSA) had a year-over-year 0.2% population gain in 2020, according to the Bureau of Statistical Analysis. And it was down from the previous year’s growth rate. So were all but one of the neighboring CSAs. Chattanooga was the only CSA with a year-over-year population gain in 2020.

There’s no argument the Tri-Cities has seen and is seeing many new residents. But if so many are moving here, why is the population growth picture mushy?

Based on past years data 9.6 people leave the Tri-Cities every day and 18.6 people die. That’s a critical component for a net population picture because the number of new residents and births has to replace those who moved and died.

A recent post on the Move to Kingsport Facebook Page says the city gained 888 new families. It also shows where they came from. Interesting information, for sure.

Thanks to the Johnson City Chamber of Commerce, we know that the metro area saw at least 1,924 new households from Oct. 1, 2020, to Sept. 30, 2021. Of that number, 1,052 set up housekeeping in Johnson City.

Here’s a generational drill-down for those new households.

Millennials – 36%

Baby Boomers – 21%

GenX – 19%

GenZ – 20%

Silent Generation – 2%

The No. 1 new resident donor state was Florida, followed by North Carolina and Virginia. New residents from California held down the No. 4 spot while New York was No. 5.

Using Gallup’s average retirement age as a benchmark, 16% of the new Johnson City residents were at the average core retirement age and another 6% will reach that threshold in the next two years.


Better than half of the current home listings views on Realtor.com in both metro areas were from outside the state – 57% for Johnson City and 54% for Kingsport-Bristol. The top five for each metro area were:


New York


Washington, D.C.




New York


Washington, D.C.

Seattle – Tacoma


And where were locals looking at home listings?

Forty-seven percent of the views from the Johnson City metro area were in Kingsport-Bristol

A little over one-in-three views from Kingsport-Bristol were to the Johnson City metro area.

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  1. Johnson City leads Tri-Cities employment, labor force gains - DON FENLEY @ CORE DATA