Economic Development 101 – Tri-City Population Growth


Previously, the Tri-Cities had limited recognition as a location for affordable housing in a low cost-of-living area that was a good place to invest in a home and live. This is no longer the case. There was a flood of new arrivals. And it may not be over. May is the key phrase, as researchers from three national organizations responsible for studying migration trends say that while people are still on the move, they are staying closer to home or deciding to stay where they are. If so, the pandemic rush to other states has run out of gas. Only time will tell.

Former Kingsport City manager – now Move To Kingsport guru – Jeff Fleming says strategic recruitment of new residents is key to tackling the problem. Here is how he based his main argument. “The 31 counties in our immediate Appalachian region (TN-VA-KY-NC) have lost a combined population of 3.3% from 2010 to 2020. This is not sustainable. Many seem worried that the newcomers will change our culture, but it is already changing due to decline.

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

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


Since 2016, the Tri-Cities have experienced population growth. It wasn’t much. But it reversed consecutive years of population losses in the early years of the 2010-2020 decade. The seven-county Combined Statistical Area (CSA) saw a 0.2% year-over-year population gain in 2020, according to the Bureau of Statistical Analysis. And that was down from the growth rate of the previous year. The same was true for all the neighboring CSAs except one. Chattanooga was the only CSA with a year-over-year population gain in 2020.

There is no doubt that the Tri-Cities have seen and are seeing many new residents. But if so many people are moving here, why is the picture of population growth fuzzy?

Based on data from previous years, 9.6 people leave the Tri-Cities each day and 18.6 people die. This is essential for a clear picture of the population, as the number of new residents and births must replace those who moved and died.

A recent post on the Move to Kingsport Facebook page says the town has gained 888 new families. It also shows where they come 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 October 1, 2020 through September 30, 2021. Of those, 1,052 moved the household to Johnson City.

Here is a generational analysis of these new households.

Generation Y – 36%

Baby boomers – 21%

GenX – 19%

GenZ – 20%

Silent Generation – 2%

The new No. 1 resident donor state was Florida, followed by North Carolina and Virginia. New residents of California held fourth place while New York was No. 4.

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


More than half of current real estate listing views on in the two metro areas were from out of state – 57% for Johnson City and 54% for Kingsport-Bristol. The top five for each metropolitan area were:


new York


washington d.c.




new York


washington d.c.



And where did the inhabitants consult the real estate advertisements?

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

Just over one in three views from Kingsport-Bristol were of the Johnson City metropolitan area.

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