From Retail to Technology: A Needed Shift
Many would say that Johnson City is currently doing well for itself, and I would not disagree at all.
We are revitalizing our downtown, we have an innate connection to a large hospital system, and our wages across the population are only slightly below average.
Unfortunately, despite the beautiful look of our local economy on the surface, there is an incoming disaster for which we are not prepared – the Retail Apocalypse.
Johnson City has an above average reliance on Retail employment – approximately 14% of our local employment is retail, which is 20.8% higher than the national rate. Tennessee – our area in particular – is on a constantly dwindling list of places where Retail is still seeing growth. Historically, this would be a good marker of a healthy consumer market with a high level of disposable income. However, in today’s shifting business climate, this reliance on retail employment is increasingly becoming a liability.
While it is great that we are acquiring a Five Below, a new Subway (fun fact: it will be the third subway in a 1/2-mile radius), and new construction, we cannot be ignorant to the tides of change. Since Q1 2014, the number of store closings has outpaced store openings every quarter – and it is now a 2:1 ratio.
K-Mart, H.H. Gregg, Toys R Us, and our local L&S Electronics, to name a few, are not outliers – they are now the norm. Claire’s, Charlotte Russe, Sears, J.C. Penney, Barnes & Noble, Payless, and GNC are on USA Today’s Watch list. Aeropostale just finalized its Bankruptcy plans. If that list is not frightening alone, consider this: it is estimated that 50% of malls across America will be closed by 2023.
Johnson City, if it wishes to continue to enjoy prosperity and growth, must embrace a new industry and plan today to replace the jobs that will be lost over the next 5-10 years. Doubling down on Retail, building more space when entire streets are vacant, and stubbornly holding out on change until the last minute is a poor policy. Failure to plan is a plan to fail. The prosperous cities of 2020 and beyond will be those that embrace the industries of 2020 and beyond. As a city, only 3.52% of our employment is science and technology – 52.7% less than the National Average. Compare our IT and IT-related employment to cities like Chattanooga – the Silicon Valley of the South – and it is clear that we are currently behind the curve.
With Municipal Broadband on its way through BrightRidge, with ETSU in our back yard, and with a vibrant blend of hometown/bustling city atmosphere, we have what it takes to embrace technology and innovation. In fact, we have what it takes to become a key player – all we need is a clear vision and leadership bold enough to chase it.
If elected, I will strongly advocate advancements in Technology for our area. As the only member of the board with a background in Computer Science, I will bring a unique tech-focused perspective to city planning, management, and development.
The world is rapidly changing, so we have to make a choice: become a city of yesterday or become a city of tomorrow.
For me the choice is clear – and that is why on November 6, 2018, I ask for your vote to help us Build For Tomorrow.