Tennessee boasts three grand divisions -- East, Middle and West -- but a new study suggests that some of the biggest divisions are between metropolitan areas and rural nonmetro areas.
The state's economic growth of the past decade has come almost entirely from its 10 metropolitan areas, according to a statewide economic analysis released today by the Chattanooga-based Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies.
"The metro areas are the economic engines of Tennessee," said David Eichenthal, president of the Ochs Center. "We often refer to Tennessee's grand divisions of East, Middle and West. But the real divide may be between metro and nonmetro areas."
From 2000 to 2008, the metro areas of Tennessee added 119,409 jobs, while the 57 counties in Tennessee outside of those metro areas lost more than 65,000 jobs.
Mr. Eichenthal said that, after meeting with leaders in metro areas across Tennessee, "it became clear that the state's metro areas had more in common than what set them apart."
"Too often, metropolitan areas were not recognized for the degree to which they drive the state economy," he said.
* Nashville, 18.2 percent population growth, 9 percent employment growth
* Knoxville: 14.2 percent population growth, 11.9 percent employment growth
* Chattanooga: 12.2 percent population growth, 2.1 percent employment growth
* Memphis: 10.4 percent population growth, 0.3 percent employment growth
* Cleveland: 4.9 percent population growth, 4 percent employment loss
Source: The Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies
Nearly three of every four Tennesseans now live in metro areas as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau. In the past decade, 80 percent of the state's population gain has come in metro areas, the bureau said.
University of Tennessee Economist Bill Fox, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research in Knoxville, said metro areas have outstripped the growth of their rural counterparts for decades due to the decline in manufacturing and the shift toward more knowledge-based industries.
"Manufacturing historically comprised a bigger share of the jobs in rural counties, so such areas have been harder hit by the decline in manufacturing employment," Dr. Fox said. "Metro areas also tend to have the most college-educated people.
"While rural areas can be connected via broadband to other communities, it turns out many jobs still need people to interact with one another and they are more apt to do in cities and suburbs."
Ralph Schulz, president of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, said the new Ochs report "makes clear that what is good for Nashville or Knoxville or Cleveland is not only good for Tennessee, it is essential to our competitiveness."