The Tri-Cities are changing. Since 2008, a slow and uneven recovery has transformed into a thriving service economy. The demographics of this area tell a compelling story.
Local government, economy, technology, and society are all visible indicators of a growing area. But if this growth can continue, there is a key demographic issue that needs to be solved.
Currently, the median age in the four-county Kingsport-Bristol Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) is 45. The Johnson City MSA's median age is 42 compared to the national median of 37.5 That means that we are old, and getting older.
At the beginning of 2011, about 10,000 of the oldest Baby Boomers across the nation began turning 65 – every day. Now, about 120 area residents celebrate their 70th birthday every week. Unfortunately, we have a population replenishment issue. For every 10 live births in the region, there are 13 deaths. Obviously, the future of the area depends on attracting new, young residents.
Ask any college student what they think of Johnson City. "There is nothing to do," they will say. Johnson City boasts an affordable cost of living, great healthcare, good schools, and a stable economy. While these facts are great for current residents, young professionals are looking for entertainment and culture.
So how do we attract younger residents? By creating a local culture that appeals to younger generations. Downtown Johnson City is a step in the right direction. The historical area has attracted new restaurants, breweries, and retail shops. These new businesses are a sign of a positive cultural change that has transformed downtown Johnson City.
If that culture can spread throughout the region, the Tri-Cities will become an attractive destination for tourists and residents alike. Tourists will come to the Tri-Cities for the culture, the mountains, and the entertainment. New residents will then be attracted to the area for the same reasons. Graduates of ETSU and Milligan will be motivated to stay in the area. This culture will start a domino effect that will create desirable jobs and younger residents.
After that, new companies will start migrating to the area because of those young professionals. These new companies will provide high-paying jobs for their employees. These jobs will create lasting economic growth in the Tri-Cities.
Residents, lawmakers, and businesses are all faced with the same problem in northeast Tennessee. We need to spend time and money attracting new, young residents. The solution lies in developing a unique local identity. All we need to do is support this cultural change in the area, and the domino effect will begin.
During the coming months, we will examine local trends, problems, and opportunities that face the Tri-Cities. Together, the residents of this beautiful area can create lasting positive change for the generations to come.