Economic Conditions Outlook

October 2021


 

 

Welcome to the October issue of ECO, financed by First Horizon Bank, the Knoxville Chamber’s monthly economic outlook analysis.

 

Each month, we provide a varied list of economic indicators with subsequent insight into how the data and information may impact the region. A major component of this work is our monthly survey of businesses in the manufacturing, retail, and service sectors, which we leverage to gauge current economic conditions and gain insights into the economic outlook for the next six months. We also include traditional labor market, housing, sales tax and airport information as well as impromptu information as it becomes available.

We hope that ECO – financed by First Horizon Bank will help our regional business community make more informed decisions as they run their businesses.

Economic Survey Results by Industry

Based on the response to the October survey, the level of general business activity and the outlook for the next six months are split between “worse” and “the same.” (Business activity and outlook were both reported as split between “improved” and “the same” in the September survey.)

The month-over-month responses showed “increases” in delivery time. “No changes” were reported for capacity utilization, unfilled orders, prices received for finished goods, wages and benefits, number of employees, and average employee workweek. “Decreases” were reported for the volume of new orders, growth rate of orders, and finished goods inventories. Production, prices paid for raw materials, and capital expenditures were split between “increase” and “no change.” The volume of shipments was split between “decrease” and “no change.” (Month-over-month responses in September showed “increases” in capacity utilization, prices paid for raw materials, wages and benefits, number of employees, and capital expenditures. The growth rate of orders, unfilled orders, and average employee workweek were split between “increase” and “no change.” The volume of new orders and finished goods inventories were split between “increase” and “decrease.”)

The six-month outlook projects an “increase” in prices paid for raw materials. The future growth rate of orders is expected to “decrease.” “No changes” are expected for the number of employees and average employee workweek. Responses are evenly split between “increase” and “no change” for unfilled orders, prices received for finished goods, and wages and benefits. Future capital expenditures and delivery time are evenly split between “increase” and “decrease.” Future production, capacity utilization, volume of new orders, volume of shipments, and finished goods inventories are evenly split between “decrease” and “no change.” (The six-month outlook in the September survey projected an “increase” in unfilled orders, delivery time, and prices paid for raw materials. Responses were split between “increase” and “no change” for number of employees, average employee workweek, and capital expenditures. Future production, capacity utilization, volume of new orders, and finished goods inventories were split between “increase” and “decrease.” The growth rate of orders was split between “decrease” and “no change.”)

Manufacturing comments indicate that the supply chain for raw materials is still a struggle and appears to be worsening.

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Knoxville area retailers indicated in the October survey that their evaluation of the level of general business activity is split between “improved” and “the same.” Company outlooks are mostly “improved.” (Respondents said that general business activity and company outlooks were “the same” in last month’s survey.)

The month-over-month responses in the October survey indicated “increases” in net sales revenue, wages and benefits, input prices, selling prices, and inventories. “No change” was reported for internet sales. Responses were split between “increase” and “no change” for the number of employees (both full-time and part-time) and capital expenditures. The average employee workweek was “mixed.” (Month-over-month responses in September were all the same except the number of both full-time and part-time employees were split between “decrease” and “no change.” Capital expenditures were reported as “increased.” The average employee workweek and inventories were split between “increase” and “no change.”)

The six-month outlook projects mostly an even split between “increase” and “no change” for net sales revenue, the number of full-time and part-time employees, average employee workweek, selling prices, and inventories. Mostly “increases” are expected for input prices and capital expenditures. “No changes” are anticipated for future internet sales and wages and benefits. (The September survey’s six-month outlook had similar forecasts to this month’s survey except inventories were split between “increase” and “decrease.”)

Retail comments indicate that inflation continues to drive up the prices of raw goods, freight, and wages. Also, more employees are needed to meet customer demand.

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Knoxville area service sector businesses reported in the October survey that their current level of general business activity is “mixed” while company outlooks are mostly reported as “the same.” (This marks the third consecutive month that service sector respondents indicated this same sentiment.)

The month-over-month responses showed mostly “increases” for input prices and wages and benefits. “No changes” were mostly reported for the number of part-time employees, average employee workweek, and selling prices. The number of full-time employees, capital expenditures, and revenue were “mixed.” (Last month’s survey responses were similar except “increases” were reported for capital expenditures, while wages and benefits were mostly split between “increase” and “no change.”)

The six-month outlook shows respondents estimating mostly “increases” in revenue, wages and benefits, input prices, selling prices, and capital expenditures. “No changes” are mostly expected in the number of part-time employees and average employee workweek. The future number of full-time employees is mostly split between “increase” and “no change.” (Last month’s six-month outlook was similar for all items except an “increase” was expected for the number of full-time employees, while future capital expenditures were mostly split between “increase” and “no change.”)

Service sector comments indicate that there is continued concern regarding the current rate of rising inflation.

Note: We are still growing the number of participating companies, so response totals in some areas may be fairly small. If you are interested in being a participant in our monthly surveys, please register at this link. www.knoxvillechamber.com/ecoregistration/

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Special COVID-19 Vaccination Requirements

In addition to the regular monthly survey questions, we asked respondents if their companies had any special requirements for their employees as it relates to COVID-19 vaccinations and if so, what were the requirements.

The overwhelming majority (71%) of respondents indicated that they did not have any special COVID-19 vaccination requirements for their employees. The manufacturing and retail sectors were both split with half indicating that they did have special requirements and half indicating that they did not. Most service sector respondents (78%) did not have special COVID-related vaccination requirements.

Special COVID-19 requirements for the companies that responded “yes” are varied. Some companies are requiring employees to be vaccinated in order to work physically inside the factory or the office, while others require employees to be vaccinated if working on a customer site that requires it. COVID-19 vaccination is required as a condition to be hired at some businesses. Unvaccinated employees are required to wear masks at some businesses, while others just strongly encourage mask wearing. Some businesses have protocols in place for employees that contract or are exposed to COVID-19 including required isolation, a negative test seven days after exposure, and a negative test or doctor’s note required to return to work.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s latest weekly Small Business Pulse Survey conducted from October 11-17, 11.9% of U.S. small businesses required employees to have proof of COVID-19 vaccination before physically coming to work and 8.9% of U.S. small businesses required a negative COVID-19 test before physically coming to work. You can read more here.


 

Labor Market

The Knoxville MSA’s unemployment rate in September was 2.9% (this was lower than August’s 3.5% rate and lower than the COVID-related 4.8% rate from September 2020.) Knox County’s unemployment rate in September was 2.7% (down from 3.3% in August and down from 4.7% in September 2020.) Tennessee’s unemployment rate was 3.5% in September (down from 4.3% in August and way down from 7.6% in last September.) The U.S. unemployment rate was 4.6% in September (down from the 5.3% rate in August and down from the 7.7% unemployment rate recorded last September.)

The size of the total labor force declined from August to September at the local, state, and national level. The Knoxville MSA’s labor force decreased 0.6% (from 431,071 in August to 428,513 in September.) Knox County’s labor force decreased 0.6% (from 245,519 in August to 244,129 in September.) Tennessee’s labor force decreased 0.9% (from 3,316,531 in August to 3,286,244 in September.) The national labor force decreased 0.2% (from 161,788,000 in August to 161,392,000 in September.)

Below is the 13-month unemployment rates trending comparison for the four largest MSA’s in Tennessee –

(Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; Tennessee Dept. of Labor & Workforce Development)


 

Job Market

For the month of September, there were 39,883 unique active job postings in the Knoxville MSA (up 1.6% from August and up 36.9% from last September.) There were 25,797 unique active job postings in Knox County (up 2.3% from August and up 47.3% from this time last year.)

The Top 10 industries (by number of job postings) in the Knoxville MSA in September were –

The Top 10 occupations (by number of job postings) in the Knoxville MSA in September were –

 

You can view the 13-month job postings trend for Knox County and the Knoxville MSA below.

(Source: EMSI Job Postings Analytics)


 

ADP National Employment Report®

Each month, ADP, a large-scale payroll and human resources company releases their National Employment Report®, which provides a high-level look at month-over-month private-sector employment changes across the country.

The September report shows a gain of 568,000 in nonfarm private-sector employment (an increase from the 374,000 jobs gain reported in August.) Large firms (500+ employees) posted the largest gain of 390,000 jobs. Midsized businesses (50-499 employees) gained 115,000 jobs and small businesses (1-49 employees) increased by 63,000 jobs.

ADP’s Small Business Report, which further synthesizes the small business landscape, shows that the 63,000 jobs gain was driven mostly by “Other Small” businesses (20-49 employees) which increased by 43,000 jobs. The “Very Small” businesses (1-19 employees) increased by 20,000 jobs.

(Source: ADP)


 

Worker Shortage Continues

The regional worker shortage continues as the Knoxville MSA’s labor force decreased by 0.6% from 431,071 in August to 428,513 in September while the total number of job openings increased 1.6% from 39,244 in August to 39,883 in September. Meanwhile, the Knoxville MSA’s unemployment estimate (or number of available workers) has decreased 19% from 15,226 in August to 12,334 in September. This currently means that if every unemployed person in the Knoxville MSA got hired today, they would only be able to fill 31% of the job openings, leaving 69% of open job positions unfilled.

The labor shortages are persisting longer than many economists expected. Businesses and policymakers were hoping that the expiration of the extra $300 weekly unemployment benefit was going to cause a massive movement of jobless Americans to return to work. The extra federal unemployment benefit officially ended September 6th nationally and yet there has not been a significant influx of job applicants. Instead, the total workforce has continued to mostly shrink at the national, state, and local levels. Economists continue to believe that there is a range of factors that continue to keep people from returning to the workforce including a continued fear of contracting COVID-19 in many public-facing jobs, a lack of childcare options, and career re-evaluations. You can read more here. Childcare options, in particular, seem to be in short supply as Child Care Aware of America has estimated that 9% of licensed childcare programs have permanently closed since COVID-19 began. Many parents are struggling to find open spots for their children at the few daycares that are still operating and when they do find an open spot, they often find that they can’t afford it. You can read more here.

There will continue to be more increasing pressure on wages, job flexibility, and childcare options. As a region, we must figure out how we can significantly increase the size of our local labor force through talent attraction (recruiting more people aged 25-54 to our region), talent retention (keeping recent college graduates and people aged 25-54 here), and immigration reform (increasing work visas and the ability to recruit specialized talent from abroad) in order to meet our region’s ever increasing job demand.


 

Consumer Price Index (CPI – Inflation Rates)

The national inflation rate from September 2020 to September 2021 is 5.4%. This is up from the 5.3% rate from August 2020 to August 2021. Last year, the national inflation rate was 1.4% from September 2019 to September 2020. The Federal Reserve says that we should continue to expect higher inflation rates over the next few months as the economy corrects itself from last year’s pandemic-related economic shutdown and restrictions. The high inflation rates for the past six months are raising further debates among economists as to whether the higher inflation is as “transitory” as the Fed believes. You can read more here.

Knoxville falls into the South Size Class B/C (population of 2.5 million or less) grouping. The current inflation rate for this region is 6.0% for the September 2020 to September 2021 period. This is up from 5.9% in the August 2020 to August 2021 period. Last year, the rate was 1.5% for September 2019 to September 2020.

(Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; Consumer Price Index, not seasonally adjusted)


 

Housing Market

Home sales in the Knoxville area increased 9.6% in September to a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 24,245. Similarly, home sales in Knox County increased 7.0% from the previous month to a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 8,821. The Knoxville area experienced slight year-over-year gains while Knox County experienced slight year-over-year decline, mostly due to lack of inventory.

Nationally, existing-home sales increased to a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 6.29 million in September — up 7.0% from the previous month but down 2.3% from a year ago. Home sales in the South rose 8.6% in September.

The median home sales price in the Knoxville area was $285,000 in September — an increase of 20.0% from one year ago. Knox County’s median home sale price was $293,000 in September – up 17.2% from one year ago.

Forty-one percent of homes sold for over asking price in September — down from 44% the previous month — with 21% of homes selling for at least $10,000 over asking price and 7.6% selling for at least $25,000 over asking price. New construction (i.e. “Never Occupied,” “To Be Built,” “Under Construction,” or “Under Roof”) represented 7.3% of total home sales, though just 20% of those new construction sales were move-in ready.

Housing inventories remain tight nationally, regionally, and locally — though the number of active listings has increased modestly across the past few months. In the Knoxville area, total inventory remains down around 11% from a year ago and 44% from pre-pandemic levels. Half of homes sold in the Knoxville area were on the market for 6 days or less.

Months of inventory, the number of months it would take to exhaust active listings at the current sales rate, continues to hover around 1.2 months.

According to Hancen Sale, Governmental Affairs and Policy Director at the Knoxville Area Association of Realtors®, “Strong demand, aided by a dip in mortgage rates, continues to quickly absorb new inventory. Home sales are likely to slow sometime in the next six months; however, the short-term outlook remains positive, as the threat of rising mortgage rates alone could spur more buyer activity through the end of the year, especially among first-time homebuyers looking to “lock-in” while mortgage rates remain near historic lows.”

Knoxville Area Association of REALTORS® (KAAR) reports monthly home sales patterns using a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR), an adjusted rate that takes into account typical seasonal fluctuations in data and is expressed as an annual total. Comparing month-over-month housing market data using this method provides a more accurate depiction of home sales.

(Sources: National Association of Realtors®; Knoxville Area Association of Realtors)

(Sources: U.S. Housing & Urban Development – SOCDS – State of the Cities Data Systems; U.S. Census Bureau – Building Permits Survey)


 

National Retail Sales

The total advance monthly retail sales estimate for September 2021 was $606.79 billion (down 3.6% from August and up 14.2% from last September.)

All retail sectors showed growth from this time last year. The retail sectors that showed the greatest growth from last September were Gasoline Stations (+41.6%), Clothing Stores (+34.4%), Food Services and Drinking Places (+31.0%), Miscellaneous Stores (+20.7%), Furniture and Home Furnishings Stores (+19.1%), Sporting Goods/Books/Hobby/Music Stores (+18.6%), and General Merchandise Stores (+17.7%).

Retail sectors seem to continue to benefit from pent up customer demand and increasing leisure travel.

(Sources: U.S. Census Bureau; Advance Monthly Retail Trade Reports, not adjusted)


 

Tennessee State and Local Sales Tax Collections

The Knoxville MSA region collected $106.8 million in state sales taxes in September (down 5% from August but up 13.5% from last September) and Knox County collected $69 million in September (down 4.3% from August and up 17.7% from last September.) The state of Tennessee collected $995.36 million in state sales taxes in September (down 4.7% from August and up 20.4% from last September.)

The Knoxville MSA collected $37.34 million in local sales taxes in September (down 3.9% from August and up 18.9% from last September) and Knox County collected $22.54 million (down 4.3% from August and up 18% from last September.)

These significant increases in state and local sales tax collections from last year indicate that consumer spending continues to be strong.

(Source: Tennessee Department of Revenue)


 

Recent Business Expansions and New Business Announcements in the Knoxville Region

In this section of ECO, we share announcements of businesses that are expanding their existing operations or locating a new facility in the Knoxville region. If you would like to share your business expansion announcement with us, please send your info to jriley@knoxvillechamber.com.

New and existing industries continue to invest in the Knoxville region.

October 15, 2021 – Ephant Group, a hotel development and property management firm, announced it was investing $9 million in the redevelopment of the Hope Brothers Building located at 428 S. Gay Street in downtown Knoxville. When completed, the 25,000 square-foot building will be the home of Hotel Cleo, a boutique hotel featuring four 600-square-foot hotel rooms on each of the four floors above street level and Lilou, a new bar and restaurant concept that will be accessible to the public from the hotel’s main lobby. The hotel is expected to open in the spring of 2022. You can read more here.

October 28, 2021 – Dominion Group announced it is developing a $60 million apartment complex on the South Knoxville waterfront called South Banks at Suttree Landing. The development will include 230 apartments, some retail, and more private and public parking spaces to the Sevier Avenue area. The project is expected to take two years to complete. You can read more here.


 

Knox County Business Licenses

New business licenses issued in September 2021 by Knox County are down 3.7% from September 2020 during the pandemic but are up 9.7% from the pre-pandemic September 2019 count.

A total of 259 new business licenses were issued in September 2021 compared to 269 in September 2020 and 236 in September 2019. The top industry sectors for which business licenses were issued in September 2021 were services, retail, and construction.

Below is a chart showing the 13-month trend of business licenses issued by Knox County.

(Sources: Knox County Clerk)


 

McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS) Passenger and Freight Trends

The Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority recorded 181,442 passengers in August (down 18.4% from July’s passenger traffic and up a whopping 110.3% from COVID-ravaged August 2020 but down 22.3% from pre-COVID August 2019.)

According to the Transportation Security Administration, the average daily number of passengers passing through the nation’s TSA checkpoints in September was 1,702,991 (up 134.1% from the September 2020 daily passenger average of 727,603 but still down 23.7% from the pre-COVID September 2019 average of 2,231,373.) You can view the daily TSA checkpoint travel numbers here.

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), airlines in North America are forecasted to return to profitability in 2022 ahead of all other regions in the world. International air travel should start picking up a bit as more countries (including the U.S.) are starting to allow more foreign travelers to enter their countries as long as they are fully vaccinated. The updated foreign air travel restrictions to the U.S. are effective beginning November 8th. Read more about foreign travel requirements here. You can also read IATA’s full Air Passenger Market Analysis for August 2021 here.

The total freight recorded in August at TYS was 7,336,509 tons (down 12.5% from July and up 4.6% from last August.)

(Sources: Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority; U.S. Transportation Security Administration)

Notice: This survey is copyrighted by its owner, and permission to use such copyrighted materials must be obtained from the owner and cannot be obtained from the Knoxville Chamber. Reproduction or distribution of this survey, in whole or in part, is expressly prohibited without the written permission of the content owner.

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