JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — A regional multi-family developer says near-term trends make him confident growth will continue for at least a while after Northeast Tennessee’s estimated population grew by more last year than in any single year since 2008.

Shane Abraham, founder of Johnson City-based Universal Development and Construction, said the market in multi-family residential boomed around Northeast Tennessee in 2021 and a short-term slowdown isn’t likely.

“What we have seen year to date in ’22 and looking out beyond to the balance of ’22 and ’23 from the housing we manage, we feel like there’s still momentum,” Abraham said.

“I can’t say for sure you’re going to see the same kind of ’22 that you saw in ’21, but I still think it will be a big year.”

The seven-county region added an estimated 3,203 people, or 0.6%, between July 1, 2020 and July 1, 2021. Over the previous decade, the largest single-year increase was 2,354 from 2017 to 2018. One-year growth above 3,200 hasn’t occurred since 2008, the end of a four-year period when annual growth averaged more than 4,200.

Tennessee’s statewide population grew an estimated 0.9% from 2020 to 2021 during the same period as the state added about 55,000 people.

The region’s estimated population as of last July 1 was 513,412, up from 510,209 a year earlier. The increase continues and accelerates a gentle growth trend that began in 2016 after five years (2011-2015) that saw the population actually decline by a cumulative total of 108 people.

At that point, the estimated population was 499,658. In the six years since, it has increased by almost 14,000, or 2.8%.

The strongest growth over that 2016-2022 period has been in Washington County, which has seen a 5.3% increase and is now estimated at 134,236.

But a couple of smaller counties led the way in the most recent year. Hawkins and Johnson counties each reported estimated increases of 1.1%.

Hawkins topped 57,000 people for the first time, reaching 57,288 with a growth of 619. That came after an entire decade in which it had lost about 100 people. Johnson County gained 204 residents to move back above 18,000 for the first time since the 2013 estimate.

Abraham said the job market will eventually settle and other turbulent factors such as the “Great Resignation” and the “Great Migration” from core urban areas will stabilize as well.

“It probably will diminish, just going back in line more with what we’ve seen historically.”

Abraham said, though, that his longer-term prediction is mainly based on the region’s traditionally slow to moderate job growth.

“In the age of working remote, that certainly was a shot in the arm for areas where it’s economic to live like ours,” he said. “The question will be how much that will be allowed. You’ve got a lot of CEOs of big international firms that are begging their people to get back in the office. If things go into recession and employers get their leverage back, you may very well see that come into play.”

While that could decrease migration into places like Northeast Tennessee, Abraham said the population uptick recently has allowed places like Johnson City to grow in areas that continue to make them attractive. He said the Southeast has risen on people’s radar as an attractive place to move to for either work or retirement.

“We feel like there’s a shot in the arm here that’s going to continue,” he said. “I’m not saying Washington County’s going to see 2,000 people every year, but if we continue to do neat things downtown, there’s a lot of people noticing things that’s going on here and finding that they want to live here.”

Sullivan County added the most people in raw numbers, growing by 0.7% with the addition of 1,173 residents to reach 159,265. Greene County also grew, adding an estimated 401 people for a total population of 70,621.

Population declines were registered in Unicoi County, which dropped 0.9% to 17,698 from 17,867, and Carter County, which lost an estimated 181 residents (0.3%) to slide to 56,134. By percentage, those changes were the second and sixth-biggest population declines among Tennessee’s 95 counties.

Abraham mentioned Greenville and Spartanburg, S.C. as two areas that had traditionally slow-growing populations but turned that around in the last couple of decades and have sustained it.

“They had some great employment bases that got started that really made it easy, but they also did some great planning with their downtowns, and so we might be surprised at how this continues.”

At the city level, Bristol, Tenn. saw the highest percentage growth among the larger Tri-Cities, growing by 1.2% with the addition of 328 residents. Jonesborough had the biggest increase among smaller towns, 2.1%, growing by 124 residents to reach nearly 6,000 population.

Johnson City added the most residents, 702, to reach an estimated 71,278 and grow by 1%. Kingsport added 216 people to grow 0.4% to a population of 55,582.