Assistant Kingsport city manager shares U.S. Census data from region

Matthew Lane • Jan 14, 2007 at 12:24 PM

KINGSPORT - Did you know the Kingsport Metropolitan Area has a population of more than 300,000 people with 70 percent having at least a high school education and nearly 70 percent owning their homes?

If you didn't, you could be sure Assistant City Manager Jeff Fleming knows.

In his spare time Fleming sends out an e-mail to several thousand people a day reminding them of upcoming events, highlighting something of local interest or, as of late, presenting the latest U.S. Census data on the Kingsport Metropolitan Area.

The U.S. Census Bureau releases a statistical report every year on the more than 360 metropolitan areas in the country.

The Kingsport Metropolitan Area consists of Kingsport, Church Hill, Scott County, Va., and Bristol, Tenn. and Va. The Johnson City Metropolitan Area includes Johnson City, Jonesborough, Elizabethton and Erwin.

Since November Fleming has sent out 17 such e-mails, dubbed "Fast Facts," detailing all manner of census data, including demographic information (population, age, race, births and deaths), education statistics and income and poverty figures. In all of the e-mails, Fleming compares Kingsport to its neighbors, including Johnson City, Knoxville and Asheville.

In one e-mail, Fleming wrote the KMA had 1,413 more deaths than births, but realized a total population increase of 2,810 due to in-migration. Other information sent out shows the KMA's population is 96.9 percent white, 13.4 percent live below the poverty level, the per capita income is $24,481 and that total personal income is $ 7.3 billion.

Fleming said he choose to release the information via e-mail as a way to educate the public about Kingsport's statistics and demographics.

"I chose to do it in a bite-sized way because when you see an inch-thick book it's sort of daunting and it makes it very user-friendly," Fleming said. "It helps all of us to be educated with how we compare to others and what's going on in the world around us."

But is it really important to know that 31.4 percent of families in the KMA have children under the age of 18 or that there are more than 830 physicians within the KMA?

"It's important because it helps us understand the demographic situation we face. Every day as we go to work and do our jobs it affects everything we do, from schools to churches to charities," Fleming said. "It tells us what our buying power is, what our poverty level is, our education level.

"The numbers could be a call to action or they can lull us into complacency. I hope it reinforces that we have many positive characteristics and there are things that need some work."

Educational attainment is one area Fleming said Kingsport needs to work on.

According to U.S. Census figures, 73 percent of the people living within the KMA are high school graduates or higher while only 15.5 percent have a bachelor's degree or higher. In Johnson City, those figures are 73.7 percent and 18.5 percent respectively; in Asheville, 80.9 percent and 23.1 percent; and, in Knoxville, 80.2 percent and 24.6 percent.

"That's what jumps out at me very strongly," he said. "I think the fact that we had so many manufacturing jobs that paid so well, many people didn't need to continue their education to find a high paying job. That is not the case any longer."

Fleming said the key to improving our economic position is three things - education, education and education.

"I think it adds credence to the effort of creating a higher education center. We've got to raise the educational attainment."

Another statistic that "jumped out" at Fleming was the KMA's death rate being higher than the birth rate.

"When there are increases in population it comes from people moving in - domestic migration. That tells me the residential relocation campaign that Sullivan County, Bristol, Kingsport and others have embarked upon is going to be very important to our future," Fleming said. "People that relocate from somewhere else to this area, they bring accrued wealth with them and that's important to us.

"For each person that brings that kind of accrued wealth, it also creates spin-off jobs to support them like restaurants, banks and health care."

After pouring over the U.S. Census data and sending out 17 e-mails with said data, Fleming said he is learning the Kingsport Metropolitan Area is very comparable to Asheville and Knoxville.

"I think the Tri-Cities in general has a self-esteem problem when it comes to comparing ourselves to others and what this tells me is we have a relatively good situation. However, there are certainly things that we need to work on," Fleming said. "Sometimes people make assumptions of what they think reality is and then they find out it's different."

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