Tennessee has the 18th-largest economy in the United States. Important industries include health care, education, farming, electrical power, and tourism. In the past few years, most job growth has been recorded in the areas of leisure, hospitality, education, and health care. Manufacturing, mining, and construction jobs have declined. Despite the overall decline in manufacturing, there was good news in 2008, when Volkswagen announced that it chose Chattanooga as home for a new, $1 billion plant, expected to bring some 2,000 jobs to the state in the coming years.
Tennessee’s unemployment rate fluctuates, but generally sits a half-point above the national average. In 2008, the jobless rate was about 5.2 percent.
About 12.4 percent of Tennessee families live in poverty, more than the 10 percent nationwide average. The median household income in 2006 was $40,315—83 percent of the U.S. median income.
All of Tennessee’s cities have poverty rates higher than the state or national average. Memphis’ poverty rate is the state’s highest: 19 percent of Memphis families are poor. Knoxville’s family poverty rate is 16.7 percent.
Farming accounts for 11 percent, or $44.2 billion, of the Tennessee economy. More than 43 percent of the state’s land is used in farming; 60 percent of this is cropland.
Soybeans, tobacco, corn, and hay are among Tennessee’s most important agricultural crops. Cattle and calf production, chicken farming, and cotton cultivation are also important parts of the farm economy.
Greene County in northeastern Tennessee is the leading county for all types of cow farming; Giles and Lincoln Counties in the south-central part of the state rank second and third. The leading cotton producer is Haywood County, followed by Crockett and Tipton, all three of which are located in West Tennessee. Other counties where agriculture figures largely into the economy are Obion, Henry, Rutherford, and Robertson.
Tennessee ranks second among U.S. states for equine production, and walking or quarter horses account for more than half of the state’s estimated 210,000 head of equine. The state ranks fifth for tomatoes, sixth for tobacco, and ninth for cotton.
Some farmers have begun converting to corn production in anticipation of a biofuel boom.
According to the state department that promotes tourism, the industry generated some $13.4 billion in economic activity in 2006. More than 181,000 Tennessee jobs are linked to tourism. The state counted some 49.75 million overnight and day-trip visitors in 2006, and credited the industry with generating more than $1 billion in state and local tax revenue.
© Susanna Henighan Potter from Moon Tennessee, 5th Edition