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First “ECO” report of 2022 asks businesses about challenges, opportunities for the year

By Kailyn Lamb, Marketing Content Writer and Editor, PYA

The Knoxville Chamber’s January “Economic Conditions Outlook” (ECO) report, powered by First Horizon Bank, was released earlier this week. The report had its usual business inquiries but also had some highlights for 2021, including Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) funding and outlooks for 2022 from local businesses.

Some opportunities local business owners reported for the new year in the Chamber survey were projected strong business growth, a strong real estate market, increased freight demand, regional population growth, stabilization of COVID spread, and more employees returning to work in person. The challenges included persistent rising inflation, increasing wages, hiring new skilled employees, retaining existing employees, continued supply chain challenges, access to capital, increasing building costs, increased federal regulations, and confusion regarding the legality and enforcement of vaccine mandates. Many of these challenges reflect answers given throughout 2021 in the “ECO” business surveys.

Surveyed businesses in the manufacturing sector reported that general activity in January was “improved” while future outlooks were “the same.” In retail, businesses reported general activity as split between “worsened” and “the same.” Future outlooks were reported as “the same.” The service industry said general business activity was “mixed” while future outlooks were “the same.”

The Knoxville Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) had an unemployment rate of 2.9 percent in December, a slight increase from the month before. The labor force in the Knoxville MSA increased from 434,827 in November to 437,351 in December. Due to a merger in the company where the Chamber sources its job posting data, the number of unique job postings in the Knoxville area is significantly lower than in previous reports. This is due to more specific data pulling, which better shows duplicate job postings. There were 10,451 unique job postings in the Knoxville MSA in December, a 12.3 percent increase from November.

In 2021, 15 SBIR awards were given in the state of Tennessee, a slight decrease from last year. Of those awards, 10 were given to companies in the Knoxville area. This accounts for 67 percent of the awards in the state. Four STTR awards were given in Tennessee, with one going to a company in Knoxville.

Other important trends identified were:

  • The Knoxville MSA collected $110.14 million in state sales tax in December, a slight decrease from the month before. Knox County collected $72.23 million in December, a slight increase from November.
  • In December 2021, 156 new business licenses were issued. This is an increase of 9.1 percent from December 2020, and an increase of 60.8 percent compared to December 2019.
  • According to WalletHub’s “2022 Top 100 Best Metros for STEM Professionals,” Knoxville ranks #1 in the state of Tennessee. Nationally, Knoxville ranked #42, followed by Nashville at #43. Chattanooga and Memphis were at #85 and #96, respectively. The metro areas were ranked by three key categories: “Professional Opportunities,” “STEM-Friendliness,” and “Quality of Life.” Read more

Look for more information on the “ECO” report’s housing update in next week’s Teknovation Weekend.

Read the full “ECO” report here.

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