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Old 01-12-2017, 08:07 PM
 
Location: Johnson City, TN
667 posts, read 821,229 times
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To avoid dragging the Ft Henry Mall thread even more off-topic, I thought I'd start a thread to discuss the current and future economic outlook of the region. Who will rise, who will decline, and what will the Tri-Cities look like in the next 5, 10, 20 years?

It is my opinion that the region is midst of a significant reorganization and is at a crossroads or sorts. The rural areas have been in a long, steady decline for 20+ years and I don't see that changing. These are areas that survived on agriculture or relied on employment in one of the numerous now-shuttered factories that were located in more rural parts of the region. The urban areas of Kingsport and Bristol continue to tread water as well with the decline of manufacturing having a significant impact along with the decline of coal.

Is there another area of the country similar to the Tri-Cities? Three or more population centers within close proximity lacking a singe true focus city. Maybe the Lehigh Valley of PA or the Southern Tier of NY. The Greenville-Spartanburg region might be the best close-to-home example and what the Tri-Cities could model itself after. Greenville is clearly the focus city but Johnson City is heading in that direction if it is not already there.

Regarding my earlier comment about the region being at a crossroads, two entities are there right now and the direction they take will have major, longstanding implications on the region's future: ETSU and the MSHA/Wellmont merger. ETSU is trying to transition away from a regional university to one with more national recognition. This involves not only increasing the school's visibility through athletics but choosing core programs to develop and market nationwide. Unfortunately, becoming more viable on the national level requires money, especially for the public health field, and that poses challenges. It's almost at the point now where you remain an affordable public institution primarily serving central Appalachia with stagnant enrollment, or go private, clamp down on admission standards, and dump money into a few focus areas such as public health and the arts, raising the school's standing on the national level but alienating the local population.

I still think parts of the region have a bright future but there needs to be a change in mindset among most of the region's leadership. It's said all the time but you simply cannot succeed with the lack of cooperation among the cities. We are finally seeing the formation of a regional partnership among the three Johnson City MSA counties but the invitation to bring Sullivan County into the fold was met with near-hostility by Sullivan Co.'s economic development organization. They are content doing things their own way and sure enough, much of their promotional material scarcely mentions Johnson City, ETSU, and anything offered in Washington/Carter/Unicoi Counties.

This region would be much better off recognizing Johnson City as the focus city for northeast TN while highlighting the unique offerings of all the other cities. Johnson City is growing, has a decent-sized university, and will most likely soon be the headquarters of a large healthcare organization and have the region's only Level I trauma center and flagship hospital. This doesn't negate what other cities in the region offer and doesn't mean that every company that moves to the region will locate in Johnson City, but having a potentially thriving city to promote to companies can be more effective than something generic like "Tri-Cities". While on a much larger scale, this can be seen in the Nashville area where not every company locating to middle TN is going to Davidson County, but rather a neighboring county/city. Therefore, the entire region is benefitting from the growth and success of Nashville. The same thing, on a smaller scale, could be seen in the Tri-Cities with Johnson City's growth.
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Old 01-13-2017, 12:40 PM
 
Location: Tennessee
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Like you, I think Johnson City has the best outlook going forward, with Bristol a distant second, and Kingsport and the rural areas lagging behind.

Nationally, the economy is becoming more service oriented these days, with the best jobs generally being office type work, and those jobs are consolidating in what seem to be fewer and fewer metros. Little states like Vermont really don't have a job center, or are hooked to the nearest major metro, kind of like NH is to Boston. Mid-size states like TN often have one, with smaller regional hubs. Nashville is taking the lion's share of prosperity in the state, and to a lesser extent, growth is happening Knoxville and Chattanooga. Around here, in general, the growth, and "quality" of the growth, is pretty small.

This area, for several reasons (isolation from urban areas, lack of cooperation among local governments, brain drain, small population size, failure to diversify economically to name a few), remains stuck in neutral. If you read Don Fenley's reports, some indicators are mildly positive, others are mildly negative, and we've basically oscillated around a baseline, with a very slight positive trajectory, since coming out of the recession. Aside from some unexpected economic event (major recession/rapid growth aided by Trump), I don't see us breaking out of this rut.

Going forward ten or twenty years, I think the brain drain from our generation is going to be the major headwind. I would say probably 60% of the top 25% of my high school graduating class from Sullivan Central in 2004 left the area after college at the latest. A few, like myself, returned, but most didn't. Some would have left no matter what the economic prospects were, but I’m sure many didn’t want to. I could give you literally a couple dozen examples of people I know with ambition, marketable degrees, many of whom would have stayed locally if they could have found meaningful work, but couldn’t and left. You simply aren’t going to have a very healthy economy where your best and brightest can’t find meaningful work locally and have to move, and many high-paying, skilled fields are nearly nonexistent. With a smattering of exceptions, the skilled employment here is education, medical, and Eastman.

The other piece of that is the younger people who do remain here are generally less skilled, less educated, less ambitious, etc., with many of the best and brightest having moved on. That’s another headwind – a workforce that is ill-equipped and perhaps untrainable for the jobs of tomorrow.

I would say we’re more similar to Rust Belt areas in southern OH, WV, and perhaps upstate NY than we are to Sun Belt areas. We are seeing very slow growth, negative natural population growth, few people moving in, social problems with heavy drug usage, etc. We were heavily reliant on a manufacturing and mining past whose glory days have gone by, and have not been able to fully emerge on the other side. The rural counties are probably going to get even further in a hole. There’s no reason for optimism there.

The local political leadership in this area is largely inept. Local leaders bicker – they do not cooperate, and no area city is large or strong enough on its own to become an economic driver on a more than immediate local basis. Incentives are given out like candy to anyone promising a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. How many operators of the glass plant in Kingsport has the city government given incentives to that ultimately went belly up? The fiasco with the Fort Henry Mall is another example of stupidity. Most of a wing of whatever the development is named across from where the PetsMart is in Kingsport is vacant, save a game shop and an ice cream parlor. There are now quite a few vacant businesses in the Target complex. How much was given to The Falls, only to have a poorly designed, ugly, incomplete mess that the city is on the hook for? It’s the same thing with The Crossings. I know you aren’t a fan of The Pinnacle, but it is far more sensible than anything else I’ve mentioned that has gotten public money.

I also place plenty of blame on state officials in Nashville who do very little to promote anything outside of their immediate area, Knoxville, and Chattanooga. Chattanooga has gotten a lot of hype recently, and Knoxville gets some attention, but it’s like Tennessee just stops at the Sevierville exit. I have no doubt we’d be doing better as a region if Nashville promoted this area more and showed more interest in it.

If Kingsport and Bristol could accept the fact that they likely be satellites to Johnson City, and get behind Johnson City and its leadership, things could improve. As it stands, I expect Kingsport to decline further, Bristol to improve its downtown and outside the urban core retail, but not much else, and Johnson City to advance, all while the governments point fingers.
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Old 01-14-2017, 09:30 AM
 
Location: Gray, TN
2,157 posts, read 3,950,985 times
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I was at the Pavillion last night. Several of those national chains have to be regretting that location right now.
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Old 01-14-2017, 10:09 AM
 
Location: Johnson City, TN
667 posts, read 821,229 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rccrain View Post
I was at the Pavillion last night. Several of those national chains have to be regretting that location right now.
What is your reasoning?

My guess is many of these chains were lured in by attractive lease terms and the promise of The Pinnacle becoming a major regional retail destination. Some of the stores just don't fit with the demographics of Bristol/Sullivan County and you know they are counting on higher-income shoppers traveling from a fairly large radius surrounding the development and from what I have seen, that is not happening on any appreciable scale.

Last edited by Rangerred; 01-14-2017 at 10:32 AM..
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Old 01-16-2017, 07:14 AM
 
Location: Tennessee
28,286 posts, read 21,204,867 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rangerred View Post
What is your reasoning?

My guess is many of these chains were lured in by attractive lease terms and the promise of The Pinnacle becoming a major regional retail destination. Some of the stores just don't fit with the demographics of Bristol/Sullivan County and you know they are counting on higher-income shoppers traveling from a fairly large radius surrounding the development and from what I have seen, that is not happening on any appreciable scale.
It's not unreasonable at all to think that people will come to The Pinnacle from much of southwest VA (remember, many of these towns have virtually nothing there), down to Greene County and perhaps Morristown area, over into Unicoi County.

It's not going to draw people from KY, up to Roanoke and down to Knoxville as some of the more optimistic projections would indicate, but it's not just a Kingsport-Bristol development either. That's not even counting casual business they get from interstate traffic.
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Old 01-16-2017, 08:31 AM
 
Location: Gray, TN
2,157 posts, read 3,950,985 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rangerred View Post
What is your reasoning?

My guess is many of these chains were lured in by attractive lease terms and the promise of The Pinnacle becoming a major regional retail destination. Some of the stores just don't fit with the demographics of Bristol/Sullivan County and you know they are counting on higher-income shoppers traveling from a fairly large radius surrounding the development and from what I have seen, that is not happening on any appreciable scale.
It was Friday night when I was there and it seemed like a Tuesday. Little traffic, no lines. The whole place already seems a little dated.

Old Navy is already out and sitting empty. Does Panda Express really need to be at the Pinnacle and the Pavillion?
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Old 01-16-2017, 09:09 AM
 
Location: Tennessee
28,286 posts, read 21,204,867 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rccrain View Post
It was Friday night when I was there and it seemed like a Tuesday. Little traffic, no lines. The whole place already seems a little dated.

Old Navy is already out and sitting empty. Does Panda Express really need to be at the Pinnacle and the Pavillion?
You're referring to the place in Kingsport where Target is? Never remember it being called The Pavilion but I doubt I've even read the signs.

I'd assume Panda gets by on the lunch business from nearby offices and the fact it's like the only fast, decent Chinese place nearby. I sometimes go to that Jersey Mike's and WhichWich - the WhichWich seems slow but most of the other places do decent business.

I was at Target two weeks ago on a Wednesday night about 7:45 and it was completely dead. There was basically nothing going in that shopping center, and yes, that Target does seem dated. A Super Target would have been nice, and those appears to be kept up much better from my experiences elsewhere. Chop House had a good crowd that night. Kingsport really does roll up the carpet early.

I went to the Bucs game in Johnson City Saturday with dad and we went to Wild Wing Cafe afterward - there was no parking from Wild Wing in all the lots over to Freiberg's. I was able to parallel park on the street and it was pretty much standing room only in there. The other restaurants also seemed extremely busy. We ended up at Buffalo Wild Wings and it was slammed, but nowhere near as busy as Wild Wing.

Yes, playoff football was on Saturday afternoon, but I was surprised that virtually everywhere we went was not only business, but absolutely packed. You'd never see this in Kingsport.
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Old 01-16-2017, 10:41 AM
 
Location: Seattle
6,514 posts, read 14,756,459 times
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I think that difference ^ is that folks in Kingsport and even Bristol are willing to drive to JC for entertainment. Nobody in JC is gonna drive to Kingsport. I mean, among all the other factors. JC is just more vibrant.

When I worked for Target for a number of years, the Kingsport store routinely (like, almost every day) outsold the JC store. (The Bristol store always was a distant third.) I'd be curious to see what those numbers are like now, with Bristol sort of booming and JC's store remodeled.
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Old 01-16-2017, 09:07 PM
 
Location: A Yankee in northeast TN
12,337 posts, read 15,917,491 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jabogitlu View Post
Nobody in JC is gonna drive to Kingsport. I mean, among all the other factors. JC is just more vibrant.
If increased traffic on Volunteer pkwy is any indication plenty of people are coming from JC to the pinnacle. I think if there were some really attractive one of a kind offerings in Kpt people would drive a little further after a day of shopping at the Pinnacle. For instance if the aquatic center were in a better location I would have had some interest in making that a destination, a Bahama Breeze would get me there too.
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Old 01-17-2017, 06:05 AM
 
Location: Tennessee
28,286 posts, read 21,204,867 times
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Bahama Breeze would be good as we don't have any Caribbean in this area now. I ate at one in Tampa a year ago and thought it was great.

The Aquatic Center/YMCA being snuggled back by Meadowview wasn't the best idea, but what's done is done.
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