Tri-Cities economy adds 900 jobs; recovery status mixed

The sun is out. The weather invites getting out and about. And it doesn’t take long to find new residential and commercial construction is spouting like spring weeds. New restaurants and businesses are opening. Sales tax collections have exceeded budget projections. All that must mean the Tri-Cities’ economy has recovered. That’s where the picture gets cloudy.

Current labor market data some sectors have recovered at the regional level. Most have not if the pre-pandemic jobs total and employment is the recovery benchmark.

On a metro area level, the three-county Johnson City area has a stronger 2021 jobs market performance than the four-county Kingsport-Bristol metro area.

After the first adjustment that increased an earlier jobs number, the region’s annual total is still 2,500 jobs from recovery. And there were a little over 6,000 fewer people employed. Data is still coming in and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) will make more adjustments before the annual jobs number is final.


January’s headline unemployment rate ticked up to 3.5%, employment and the labor force were up from December and employers added 900 jobs. That’s a good January report. But it’s not what market watchers are studying. They’re interested in the labor market’s 2021 annual performance and what sectors added or lost jobs compared to the pre-pandemic benchmark.


The most current jobs numbers show the Johnson City metro area has recovered and added almost a 1,000 new jobs last year. The Kingsport-Bristol metro area is still 3,300 jobs in the red from its pre-pandemic level. The evolution of Kingsport-Bristol’s labor market is seen by some as more of restructuring than a simple recovery issue.


Here are the regional job sectors that have recovered and added jobs with the metro area variations.

  • Wholesale trade, up 100 jobs. All were in the Johnson City metro area.
  • Transportation and utilities, up 400 jobs. Almost all of them were in Kingsport-Bristol
  • Financial activities, up 100 jobs. All the growth was in the Johnson City metro area.
  • Professional and Business Services, up 2,200. The number of new jobs was divided almost evenly between the two metro areas. Johnson City had slightly more growth.
  • Other services, up 100 jobs. The gains were balanced between the two metro areas.


These sectors have not recovered on the regional level with the metro area variations are:

  • Construction, down 300 jobs. Kingsport-Bristol pandemic losses negated the 100 jobs gains in the Johnson City metro area.
  • Manufacturing, down 1,300. Johnson City recovered to the pre-pandemic level and added 200 manufacturing jobs last year while there was a 1,600-job deficit in Kingsport-Bristol.
  • Retail sales, down 200 jobs. This was another sector where job losses in Kingsport-Bristol outnumber gains in the Johnson City metro area.
  • Information, down 300 jobs. Johnson City was down 200 and Kingsport-Bristol was down 100.
  • Education and health services, down 1,600 jobs. Johnson City is 600 jobs below its pre-pandemic level and Kingsport-Bristol is 800 jobs shy of the benchmark.
  • Leisure and hospitality, down 1,200 jobs. Kingsport-Bristol’s 2021 annual level is 1,100 below the recovery level while Johnson City is down by less than 100.
  • Government, down 600 jobs. Kingsport-Bristol is 400 jobs shy of the benchmark; the rest is in the Johnson City metro area.

There are currently 9,459 open jobs in the Tri-Cities, according to Jobs4TN.


There are 3,457 jobs listed on the website. The top five companies and number of open jobs are:

  • Ballad Health – 420
  • ETSU – 144
  • Food City – 77
  • BWX Technologies – 49
  • State of Franklin Healthcare – 43.


Jobs4TN lists 6,002 open jobs in the Tennessee portion of Kingsport-Bristol. The top five companies and number of open jobs are:

  • Ballad Health – 610
  • Eastman Chemical Co. – 213
  • Food City – 198
  • McDonald’s – 159
  • Hard Rock Café International – 80

An employment, labor market and commuting drill-down on the regional, metro area and cities’ is in the works.

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Categories: LABOR MARKET

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