Southeast Tennessee Development

Occupations, Industries, & Degrees

Region At Work

Even with the decline of coal, steelworks, and other heavy industries, the region’s manufacturing labor force, ideal climate, natural resources, and rail and road connections have enabled our economy to remain strong compared to many industrial communities in the Northeast and Midwest. Manufacturing constitutes a significant part of the region’s total economy and drives most of export economy. However, today other sectors actually employ greater numbers of workers, as evidenced by the table below.

The largest employment sectors are not necessarily those that provide the greatest degree of economic specialization or economic output. Instead, they are often jobs that provide the day-to-day goods and services used and consumed by the region’s population. In our region, retail sales and foodservice provide the greatest numbers of jobs, followed by warehousing, distribution, and logistics workers. Some occupations require advanced training and education, but many are low-skill and fairly low-wage, often without benefits. Health treatment practitioners reported the highest median wages of the top 10 sectors at $30.91 per hour, followed by motor vehicle operators at $16.94.

Although many rural areas face health challenges, the location quotient for health treatment practitioners (1.02) shows the number of doctors, pharmacists, and other health professionals across our region is proportionately equal to the national average. As the figure on the opposite page illustrates, health care professions will see high growth in our region over the next 10 years—largely just to keep up with the needs of a growing and aging population.

A region can experience growth or decline in an industry due to changes in technology and fluctuations in the national and international economy, among other factors. The table above highlights the top 10 sectors that are projected to either grow or decline based on current trends and assumptions. The data forecasts growth in health care, service industry, and material handling occupations, with declines in textiles and driver-based transportation.

Workforce Succession

As the workforce ages and many baby boomers retire, does the region have workers to fill these positions? As of 2019, our region’s workforce included over 50,000 people ages 55-64 and another 16,000 over age 65. Worker shortages can overburden current employees, result in lost business contracts, and potentially force some companies to leave the region. In recent years, our educational institutions, economic and workforce development programs, employers, and key stakeholders have been directing their efforts to ensure we are meeting the region’s workforce needs.

About this chart: The columns present employment data for various occupations in the CEDS region. The current number of jobs in a sector is provided at the top of the column. The bar below breaks these workers down by age group. At the bottom of each column is an estimate of likely retirees over 10 years; for the purposes of this chart, most employees in the “Ages 55-64” and “Ages 65+” groups are presumed to retire at 65 or soon thereafter. The anticipated number of new jobs based on current growth trends is also listed. Adding the number of new jobs and retirees produces an estimate of the number of workers required to sustain each sector over the next 10 years.

Use the filter below to explore data for a specific occupation.

Degrees for Success

Many professions require a college degree. As students look to their professional futures, which occupations provide the greatest opportunities for employment? High school graduates today are often encouraged to pursue degrees in the STEM fields; as the chart below illustrates, these are high-paying jobs with multiple openings each year. The region’s economic future depends on educational institutions producing qualified workers with adaptive skill sets. Students should be encouraged to enroll in degree programs that guarantee them high-paying work and opportunities for career advancement in the Southeast Tennessee region.

Export Industries

One way to analyze an economy is by looking at its exports. The figure below identifies the top export industries in the CEDS region for 2018. The goods and services that these industries produce—freight trucking, insurance services, automotive parts, flooring, and more—are not all consumed or needed by the local population. Rather, they are exported to other regions and around the world, generating income for our region. 

This export data reveals that manufacturing continues to constitute a major portion of Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia’s economy. Insurance, management, and trucking also provided major contributions to our regional exports. Combined, the top 10 non-governmental export industries generated more than $13 billion in exports and provided 40,540 jobs throughout our region.

A significant portion of the CEDS region’s exports fall into the government category. This includes spending on transportation and public works projects, housing assistance, grants, and other government programs. Power sales by TVA and other public utilities are also considered government exports.

What is a Location Quotient?

A location quotient (LQ) is a numerical value representing the proportion of local workers in a given industry versus the nation as a whole. LQs help economists understand how a region’s economy is different or similar to the economy in other areas. Scores greater than 1.00 indicate that an industry employs local workers a rate higher than the national average. Often, the goods and services these industries produce are exported outside the region. The table below shows high LQ scores for occupations in textiles, manufacturing, transportation, and logistics.  

The Risks of Being Too Specialized

When an economy and its major employment industries becomes too concentrated in a small number of sectors, it makes the region susceptible to fluctuations in the national and international economy as well as changing technologies and market trends. A workforce with a limited skill set also hurts efforts to recruit new businesses. While specialization and economies of scale can make a region more competitive for a particular industry, it is critical that the region diversify its economy and develop communities and workforces that will accommodate new and emerging industries and trends. Attracting a broader class of industries and training workers with new skills will help with economic diversification and make our region more resilient in the long run.