The Tri-Cities region posted strong retail sales in the first quarter this year, fueled by an "excellent" business picture and record-level job growth.
The latest retail sales report issued Tuesday by East Tennessee State University shows that retail sales rose 5.5 percent in the Tri-Cities Combined Statistical Area during the first three months of this year.
Bristol led retailing activity, as sales jumped 12.2 percent to $280.7 million.
In Kingsport, retail sales grew 5.8 percent to $311.4 million.
And in Johnson City, sales rose 4.8 percent to $406.3 million.
Adjusted for inflation, sales volume rose 9.5 percent in Bristol, 3.3 percent in Kingsport, and 2.3 percent in Johnson City during the first quarter.
Meanwhile, the Tri-Cities gained more than 5,300 jobs in the first quarter this year, marking the eighth consecutive quarter of employment growth in the region.
ETSU economist Steb Hipple said the business picture for the region "continues to be excellent."
"Job creation is occurring at record levels, and those paychecks are showing up in the growth of retail sales," he said.
Retailing activity was strong in other areas of East Tennessee as well in the first quarter. In Knoxville, sales increased 8.3 percent, while sales in Chattanooga climbed 4.1 percent.
Statewide, retail sales in Tennessee grew 5.9 percent, while sales nationwide rose 4.1 percent.
"At the national and state level, the business expansion just keeps rolling right along to new levels of retail sales," Hipple said. "Overall, the economic view in the first quarter is reassuring."
However, he said output growth in the first quarter "seems to have stumbled." He said the country's gross domestic product is estimated to be growing at about 1 percent, yet consumption spending is growing at 3 percent.
"The problem is that households are spending that money on imported rather than domestic goods - specifically higher-priced energy imports," Hipple said. "The ballooning trade deficit is now a drag on overall economic growth."
The report is available online at http://faculty.etsu.edu/hipples.