The Tri-Cities’ relocation and population growth efforts got another bite at the apple this week. The Wall Street Journal/Realtor.com Emerging Markets Index has the two metro areas ranked among the best places in the U.S. as a good place to live based on lifestyle, housing, and economic indicators. Both have ranked high in the index for over a year.
Johnson City is in the Index’s No. 3 spot and moving up. Kingsport-Bristol didn’t get in the coveted top 20, but it wasn’t far off the pace. It was ranked 29th. Its indicators also point to the ranking moving higher. Low-cost cities with solid economies fared best in the current index.
“All of the top 20 markets in our index fall into one of two categories: affordable or outdoorsy,” said George Ratiu, manager of economic research at Realtor.com. “For many young professionals, especially those with growing families, the cost premium of living in a city like San Francisco or New York has lost its allure during the pandemic.”
The index ranks the 300 biggest metro areas in the U.S. In addition to housing-market indicators, the index incorporates economic and lifestyle data, including real-estate taxes, unemployment, wages, commute time, and small-business loans. The top-ranked markets in the second quarter had faster home sales, higher wages, and shorter commute times than the market, Mr. Ratiu said.
Keeping a high public position for those looking for greener pastures is necessary for the Tri-Cities because the region’s death rate and natural population out-migration mean attracting new residents is the way to sustain and grow population. Back-of-the-envelope calculations say that based on past death rates and out-migration data, the region must attract about 34 new residents daily to sustain the 2020 population status. The region has seen robust growth during and after the pandemic. While civic and government officials welcome it there are increasing push-back sings from some local residents.
Johnson City officials are eyeing robust growth, and a 90,000-population target has been put in play. From what data is available, the city is attracting more younger residents, and the metro area has led the region’s creation of new non-farm jobs and labor force growth. Kingsport-Bristol, on the other hand, seems to be attracting an older crowd and, so far, has a weaker job creation record. That will likely change as numbers from the Bristol Casino make it into monthly Bureau of Labor reports.
Housing affordability is a growing local concern that hasn’t downgraded the index ratings so far. Attom Data Solutions’ Affordability Index says Washington Co. has become a market where the average working person didn’t have a qualifying income to purchase a median-priced home. Kingsport-Bristol had a little better status, but its affordability index has declined for the past 15 quarters. That index is based on lending standards, including a 20% down payment, a 28% front-end debt to income ratio, and a solid credit rating.
The Wall Street Journal report said, “Worsening housing affordability is prompting more households to consider relocating. Real-estate brokerage Redfin Corp. said 32.6% of shoppers on its platform searched primarily for homes outside their metro area in the second quarter, up from 32.3% the prior quarter and up from about 26% before the pandemic.
Here’s how Tennessee metro areas ranked in the current version of the index:
Johnson City – 9
Kingsport-Bristol – 29
Knoxville – 36
Nashville – 46
Chattanooga – 67
Memphis – 117
Clarksville – 122