Tennessee jobs coming back but still far below pre-COVID levels

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — In many corners of Tennessee, there are literally signs that jobs are coming back, but they’re not yet at pre-pandemic levels.

As flocks of construction cranes flying over downtown Nashville signify thousands of continuing jobs in the building industry, they also symbolize future jobs later in places like Amazon’s huge downtown operation center and area facilities.

The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development says the tech giant will soon be hiring 2,500 additional people in the Nashville area on top of its already 12,000 jobs at other facilities around Tennessee, but beneath cranes, there are literally few signs the tourist areas are coming back.

Sprinkled on the outside of places like some downtown boot stores and bars, there are ‘Help Wanted’ placards as the service industry is allowed to re-open after being shut down to stop the spread of COVID.

While tourism slowly climbs back for many parts of Tennessee, rural areas see a silver lining as urban dwellers escape to the country.

“Rural areas have a quality of life, and our tourism has just gone through the roof as far as people want to stay at home and do mini-vacations,” said Lobelville Mayor Robby Moore of Perry County. “The Buffalo and Tennessee Rivers (tourism areas) are having record years as far as usage.”

The Lobelville mayor has been documenting Help Wanted signs in his area, but one sector of critical importance is manufacturing.

Some of those jobs are coming back, but many depend on the state’s huge automotive industry.

Auto industry data indicates Middle Tennessee’s GM and Nissan plants continue to operate at about two-thirds of where they were before the pandemic shutdown. It means the auto parts suppliers that pop up in towns around the giant plants have cut back by two-thirds as well.

All this comes as data from the Tennessee labor department indicated about 164,000 Tennesseans are still getting unemployment benefits with nearly 11,000 filings last week.

Late Thursday, Tennessee’s latest overall unemployment numbers were released showing the rate for August at 8.5 percent. That’s down seven points from April, but still above last year’s August jobless rate of 3.4 percent.

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