Jobs play a role in every political campaign

Published 9:05 am Wednesday, May 2, 2018

It seems today, there is a small battle going on and it plays into almost every political fight we have locally. What role does Elizabethton and Carter County play in the larger region? Some argue Elizabethton is an employment center for the people of Elizabethton and Carter County and, as such, want to push for better and more robust economic development activities. Others say they are resigned to the fact that Elizabethton is a suburb. They may not view economic development as a primary driver for the community, and would rather focus on our schools, housing, and quality of life to make Elizabethton the best place to live in the region. So, which is it — suburb or industrial community?
One indicator we can look at is the worker/employer base in Elizabethton — in other words, how many workers live in Elizabethton versus how many workers actually work in Elizabethton. As of 2014 (the most recent data available), Elizabethton has approximately 5,298 workers over the age of 16 that live in Elizabethton. Looking at the number of jobs in Elizabethton, as of 2014 there are approximately 8,296 people who work in Elizabethton. What this illustrates is that Elizabethton must bring almost 3,000 people from outside of Elizabethton to fill jobs.
If Elizabethton has to bring more people into the city, where are they coming from? Let’s look at another indicator — commuting patterns. We’ll start by looking at where workers who live in Elizabethton work. To make it easier we’ll use an example of 10 workers who currently live in Elizabethton — on average 3 work in Johnson City, 2 work in Elizabethton, 1 works in Kingsport or Gray, 1 works in Bristol, Piney Flats, Jonesborough, or Greeneville, and the other 3 work in other places like Knoxville, Morristown, or Erwin.
We’ve already established that people are coming to Elizabethton to work, but let’s look at where they’re coming from. Again using an example of 10 workers, 4 live in Elizabethton, 1 lives in Johnson City, 1 lives in Hampton or Roan Mountain, 1 lives in Jonesborough, Bristol, Gray, or Kingsport, and the other 3 live in other places such as Bluff City, Mountain City, Erwin, and Greeneville. These commuting patterns illustrate that a majority of the workers who live in Elizabethton work in either Johnson City or Elizabethton and that a majority of workers who are employed in Elizabethton live in Elizabethton, Johnson City, or other areas of Carter County.
Some conclusions this information gives us is that Elizabethton still remains an employer based community because more people clearly commute from other areas to work in Elizabethton than do the number of workers who live in Elizabethton. But the data also suggests that a large number of Elizabethton residents serve as a workforce base to other communities. This information again shows us the intricate way Elizabethton and Johnson City are intertwined. Johnson City residents commute to Elizabethton to work, and Elizabethton residents commute to Johnson City to work.
This data suggests that Elizabethton is at a pivot point or a fork in the road. In my opinion, in the next 20 years Elizabethton will shift to a residential suburb or remain in a duel role as both suburb and employer base for the area. Both have their benefits and both have their negatives. Which way would you like to see Elizabethton move? Let’s talk about it!
(Jon Hartman is presenting serving as Elizabethton’s City Manager Pro Tem and Director of Planning & Economic Development. He can be contacted at 542-1503 or by email at:

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