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Ralph Stanley House.
Typical Pork-Barrel Waste in Southwest, Virginia

Good news continues for Tri-Cities economy, unless one is looking for a good job

Even as retail jobs dropped, the region reported $1.7 billion worth of overall retail sales from April 1, 2011, to June 31, 2011 - according to East Tennessee State University' resident economist Steb Hipple. He also said, "And if people are working then they have money to spend." Well Steb how much of that was transfer payments? As he noted elsewhere government and government funded industries are the prime movers in the local economy. Posted September 29, 2011.

Retail activity improved in the Tri-Cities during the second quarter. On a year-to-year basis, dollar sales were up 8.6% in Bristol, 6.6% in Kingsport, and 5.5% in Johnson City. Much of this increase was due to higher prices. Still, adjusted for inflation, sales volume was up strongly in all three cities - rising 4.9% in Bristol, 3.1% in Kingsport, and 2.0% in Johnson City. In comparison, real sales increased 1.6% in the metro area, 1.9% in Tennessee, and 4.5% in the nation as a whole...

As we discussed in the last retail report, retail performance continues to be one of the bright spots in the economic picture - especially at the national level. Production and job creation continue to be weak areas in the U.S. economy.

High levels of retail sales usually mean increased factory output and increased employment. The expected positive impact on the national economy has not occurred. Indeed, recent data show that production growth has dropped below the one percent level and job creation has stalled.

The local and regional economic picture could not be more different. In the second quarter, a large number of new jobs were created, pushing employment levels close to pre-recession levels. And if people are working, then they have money to spend, and that is being reflected in the local and regional retail sales data.

Turning to the business outlook, the diverging trends between the regional and the national economies cannot continue. Ultimately the sluggish national economy will affect local business conditions. What is the consensus for the national economy? Let us use gambler's odds - and these odds are unchanged from the August labor market report.

The probability of strong production growth (falling unemployment) is zero. The odds of continuing weak growth (stable unemployment) are 40%. The probability of low or no production growth (rising unemployment) is 50%. The odds of falling output and a second recession (significantly higher unemployment) are small at 10%, but these odds were previously zero.

Read the full report here. The problem for this region is threefold:

  1. The over reliance of the local economy on manufacturing, which will continue to fall and is predicted to do just that.
  2. The replacement of those jobs with jobs with lower wage call center jobs and other low-end unstable industries paying $8 an hour.
  3. The over reliance on government spending and programs that have filled the income and job gaps for years. The political climate and reality in Washington and various state capitals will lead to cuts that could have devastating effects locally.

Retail sales figures:
Bristol, Tenn.-Va. $248.1 million, + 8.6 percent;
Johnson City, Tenn. $457.5 million, + 5.5 percent;
Kingsport, Tenn. $364.6 million, + 6.6 percent.
Source: East Tennessee State University Bureau of Business and Economic Research