While local officials say it’s way too early for a victory lap, the revenue and employment numbers released last week show reasons for optimism.
The sales-tax numbers reflect sales in August. The unemployment figures reflect the jobs outlook in September.
August’s sales tax numbers are especially important because the $600 weekly federal unemployment supplement ended on July 31, a supplement that Morristown City Administrator Tony Cox says is roughly equal to the weekly pay of someone making a $40,000 annual salary.
A $300 monthly federal unemployment supplement ended on Sept. 4.
Local officials will have a good idea about the impact of that loss in November.
Morristown sales-tax collections in August were up about 2.3% over August 2019, according to Hamblen County Trustee Scotty Long.
Cox told city councilmembers during a briefing in August the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic will be clearer in early 2021.
As sales-tax collections continue to stay in the black, the employment outlook continues to improve significantly in Hamblen County and others in the Lakeway Area.
After peaking at 15% in April, the Hamblen County jobless rate in August was 5.3%, a large improvement over August’s 7.4%, according to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
In real numbers, that translates into a gain of about 2,570 jobs. Hamblen County’s 5.3% jobless rate is lower than the statewide 6.3% rate.
“It looks like economically we’re not as bad as some,” said Morristown Mayor Gary Chesney. “I think we have a strong industrial base, and I think we’re seeing the results of that. I know people will interpret things in different ways, but being able to continue job growth is helping us sustain better than most.”
Joey Barnard, assistant city administrator, said a key indicator is Morristown’s economic well-being is the economic health of surrounding counties because so many of their residents work in Hamblen County.
Employment in all Lakeway Area counties is increasing dramatically. Cocke County’s unemployment rate remains high at 7.1 percent, but a quarter of Cocke County’s workers were jobless in April, according to the labor department.
The unprecedented increase in employment over the last five months illustrates the difference between the coronavirus-related economic downturn and the catastrophic loss of jobs in the Great Recession approximately 10 years ago.
In March 2009, the unemployment rate in Hamblen County was 13.2 %. Again, the April jobless rate in Hamblen County was 15%.
It took seven years and nine months – 93 months – to reach a sustained 5.3% unemployment rate in Hamblen County, the current jobless figure.
With respect to the coronavirus-related economic downturn, the Hamblen County employment outlook has improved more in five months since the peak in April than it did in 93 months following the Great Recession.