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Cities on the Rise in Tennessee

Aug. 4, 2014
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Innovation, robust population growth and rebounding job markets define Tennessee’s cities on the rise. The places, ranging from manufacturing hubs to thriving suburbs, attracted thousands of new residents and saw significant increases in median income, according to U.S. Census Bureau data analyzed by NerdWallet.

More broadly, Tennessee is on the upswing, too. The state gained over 40,000 jobs in 2013, and manufacturing employment grew 2.2% compared with 0.5% nationally, according to researchers at the University of Tennessee Center for Business and Economic Research. Migration to Tennessee is also increasing: 177,098 people moved to the state in 2012, according to census data.

NerdWallet crunched the numbers to find the cities in Tennessee with over 20,000 residents demonstrating growth in jobs, income and population from 2009 to 2012. Our analysis examines the following growth metrics from census data:

1. Population growth. We measured growth in the working-age population from 2009 to 2012.
2. Employment growth. We evaluated growth in the percentage of employed residents from 2009 to 2012 relative to the statewide employment growth over the same period. 
3. Income growth.
 We calculated growth in the median income for workers from 2009 to 2012.

Rank City Nearest Big City 2009-2012 Working-Age Population Growth 2009-2012 Employment Growth in Tennessee 2009-2012 Employment Growth Relative to Statewide Growth 2009-2012 Median Income Growth Overall Growth Score
1 Kingsport Johnson City 14.3% (5.2%) 4.6% 16.2% 79.9
2 Franklin Nashville 10.1% (5.2%) 2.2% 9.1% 61.7
3 Oak Ridge Knoxville 9.6% (5.2%) 5.6% 5.2% 61.7
4 Mount Juliet Nashville 23.0% (5.2%) (9.6%) 10.1% 58.8
5 Collierville Memphis 19.1% (5.2%) 2.3% (2.8%) 57.2
6 Bartlett Memphis 17.1% (5.2%) (1.0%) 2.9% 56.7
7 Cleveland Chattanooga 6.2% (5.2%) (2.7%) 14.8% 56.5
8 Clarksville Clarksville 12.8% (5.2%) (0.4%) 5.5% 56.0
9 Smyrna Nashville 4.6% (5.2%) 6.5% 3.3% 54.9
10 Johnson City Johnson City 3.1% (5.2%) 6.7% 3.7% 53.8

To view the full ranking of all 29 cities and to download the data, click here.

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Trends and Takeaways

  • Six of the top 10 cities on the rise saw the median income for full-time workers increase 5% or more.
  • Advanced manufacturing was a top industry in six of the 10 cities.
  • Half of the cities saw their working-age population grow 12% or more from 2009 to 2012.
  • The cities on the rise also ranked among the best cities for homeownership and best cities for jobseekers in previous NerdWallet studies.


Cities on the Rise in Tennessee

1. Kingsport

Double-digit growth in income and population put this eastern Tennessee city at the top of our list of cities on the rise. Education drives growth in Kingsport. In 1999, the city created a first-in-the-nation program from kindergarten to post high school, which gives every student in town the opportunity to learn specific skills required by local employers. The city also built higher education institutes and job training facilities in an “academic village” in the downtown area, where businesses are encouraged to set up shop to help revitalize the local economy. Adults can also take classes in advanced manufacturing, health care, automotive technology and business management.

2. Franklin

Located south of Nashville, Franklin’s working-age population increased 10.1% from 2009 to 2012, to 49,598 residents ages 16-64. Hospitals are some of the biggest employers in the city, along with Ford Motor Credit Co. and Nissan Motor Acceptance Corp., the financial services division of Nissan North America. Franklin shows its commitment to sustainable living with its energy–efficient lighting, green business partnerships, electric-vehicle charging stations and solar trash compactor. The small-business culture in Franklin is strong, too, with the city’s downtown association bringing in festivals and events, and the dozens of local shops and restaurants that give Franklin a unique flavor.

3. Oak Ridge

There’s more to Oak Ridge than its scientific research centers. The city experienced a 9.6% population increase from 2009 to 2012, and the median income increased 5.2% in the same period. Workers began building the city after the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor when the U.S. government picked it and two other cities to house labs to produce atomic weapons as part of the Manhattan Project. Since the end of World War II, the city has maintained its focus on science and engineering, and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory is still one of the city’s largest employers. Dozens of private scientific research companies have opened headquarters in Oak Ridge, giving the area the nickname “Innovation Valley.”

4. Mt. Juliet

This city, in the western suburbs of Nashville, saw a staggering 23% increase in its working-age population. Almost 4,000 adults ages 16 and over moved to Mt. Juliet from 2009 to 2012, according to census data analyzed by NerdWallet. In addition to jobs in Nashville, Mt. Juliet residents work in the more than 1,150 businesses in the city, and they also open an average of 180 new businesses each year, according to city economic development officials. People are also attracted to Mt. Juliet’s ever-growing supply of newly constructed homes. NerdWallet recently ranked Mt. Juliet as the third-best city for homeownership in Tennessee.

5. Collierville

The town saw strong growth in the working-age population from 2009 to 2012 with over 5,000 new adults moving to the area, according to census data. Collierville, which is east of Memphis, and just a few miles to the border of Mississippi, is home to the FedEx World Tech Center, the technology arm of the shipping company, Carrier Corp. and ThyssenKrupp Elevator. The city is working to maintain its southern charm while embracing growth by prioritizing its Main Street Collierville business corridor and bringing the community together for summer festivals and other events. NerdWallet recently ranked Collierville as one of the best cities for homeownership in Tennessee.

6. Bartlett

Bartlett, on the northeast side of Memphis, attracted more than 6,000 new working-age adults from 2009 to 2012. This city is separated into neighborhoods, with over 50 homeowners associations and neighborhood watch groups governed by the Greater Bartlett Council of Neighborhoods. One of the city’s largest employers is Brother Industries, which recently announced an expansion in Bartlett that will add 15 new jobs. Health care is another major industry with employment opportunities at Covenant Dove, a skilled nursing home and rehabilitation center, and Saint Francis Hospital-Bartlett. Bartlett was also ranked as a top place for homeownership and jobseekers in previous NerdWallet studies.

7. Cleveland

Median income growth earned this southeast Tennessee city a spot on our list. The median income for full-time, nonseasonal workers increased 14.8% to $35,545 from 2009 to 2012. Small businesses and tourism are leading the way in Cleveland’s economic development. The city, northeast of Chattanooga, is home to Cleveland Bradley Business Incubator, which offers early-stage businesses low-cost office space, technology services, advertising and assistance from the small business development center. The city is also investing in its downtown to position it as a destination for travelers on their way to Great Smoky Mountains National Park east of Cleveland. The biggest employers in the city are Whirlpool Corp., Bradley County Schools and SkyRidge Medical Center.

8. Clarksville

Tennessee’s fifth-largest city got even bigger between 2009 and 2012, earning it a spot on our list. The city’s working-age population grew with more than 10,000 people moving in over the three-year period, according to census data. People are coming to Clarksville for jobs with some of the city’s largest employers, including Austin Peay State University, Trane Co., which specializes in heating and cooling equipment, and 53 other manufacturing firms. Hankook Tire recently committed to creating up to 1,800 jobs in Clarksville when it opens its new manufacturing plant in 2018. The city also has a close relationship with nearby Fort Campbell, an Army base on the Kentucky-Tennessee border. Soldiers and their families routinely pick Clarksville as a place to live either during or after their service in the military. Clarksville also made NerdWallet’s list of best cities for Tennessee jobseekers.

9. Smyrna

The town southeast of Nashville saw gains in population, income and employment from 2009 to 2012. The largest employers include Nissan North America, Asuiron, a technology protection insurance company, and Taylor Farms Tennessee, a fresh produce supply company. Like the other cities on our list, Smyrna is a friendly southern city investing in its downtown to maintain its unique identity. The Smyrna Independent Merchants Association works to encourage people to buy local and support small businesses, “to avoid becoming Anywhere USA.” Through its “Love Smyrna” campaign, every first week of the month, the association highlights local businesses and services that make the town unique.

10. Johnson City

Consistent growth in population, jobs and income put this northeastern Tennessee city on our list. Located near Kingsport, our No. 1 city, Johnson City is part of the Tri-Cities region, which includes Johnson City, Kingsport and Bristol, Virginia. The area is working to attract aviation, automotive and retail industries to the region to complement the largest employers, which include Bristol Compressors International, AGC Flat Glass North America and Eastman Chemical. Health care is another major industry in the region. Along with being a job hub, the city hosts a summer farmers market and sponsors numerous environmental initiatives, which earned the city the first-ever “green city” leadership award from the Tennessee Municipal League. The city also ranked as one of the best cities in Tennessee for jobseekers in a recent NerdWallet study.

To view the full ranking of all 29 cities evaluated for this study and to download the data, click here.


The overall score for each city was derived from these measures:

1. Population growth from 2009 to 2012 made up 33.3% of the total score. Data for the working-age population (16+) comes from the 2009 and 2012 U.S. Census American Community Survey 3-year estimates for all places in the state, Table CP 03.

2. Employment growth from 2009 to 2012 made up 33.3% of the total score. We evaluated growth in the percentage of employed residents from 2009 to 2012 relative to the statewide employment growth over the same period. Data for the percent of employed residents comes from the 2009 and 2012 U.S. Census American Community Survey 3-year estimates for all places in the state, Table CP 03.

3. Income growth from 2009 to 2012 made up 33.3% of the total score. Data for the median earnings for full-time, nonseasonal workers comes from the 2009 and 2012 U.S. Census American Community Survey 3-year estimates for all places in the state, Table S2409.

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