Road to Regionalism: Roe pushing for combined metro

Local

(WJHL) – The prospect of the Tri-Cities’ two metro areas becoming one again may not be dead yet.

Tennessee Congressman Phil Roe (R-First) spoke with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Wednesday about what it would take to get the Kingsport-Bristol and Johnson City metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) combined into one. Thursday, Roe said he has the okay to set up a conference call between local leaders here and representatives from OMB and the Census Bureau after the holidays.

“The mayors, the economic development people, the chambers, (we’ll) get them on the same call with the OMB that I was on yesterday,” Roe said.

The benefits of such a designation aren’t certain, but Roe said local leaders’ focus on regionalism — and previous discussions about one MSA — are enough to make an effort worth his while. Since they are adjacent, the two MSAs are considered a “Combined Statistical Area” — a looser designation with apparently fewer advantages.

“I said, ‘look, we’ve just rebranded our region and we’ve just had a huge merger of our hospital systems — I can’t think of anything more regional,'” Roe said of his call, which also included a Census Bureau representative. “We need to become more of a region. Our hospital systems have realized that and other businesses are trying to work together, our regional leaders are doing that, so we’re going to pursue that.”

A push for the idea bubbled up in 2018. John Speropulos, president of Mitch Cox Realtors, suggested in a blog post that the designation could “set the stage for a better definition of what is obviously one regional marketplace.” While such a designation wouldn’t “change the region’s branding challenges,” Speropulos wrote, “it would more accurately define the region for those who make data-driven business decisions.”

It may be a long shot. Don Fenley, whose “Core Data” website provides economic and demographic reports for the Tri-Cities, reported in June 2018 that the OMB requires at least 25 percent of people living in the “central counties” of one MSA to commute to the adjacent one. At that time, those figures were just 13 percent from Sullivan and Hawkins to Washington and Carter and 14 percent the other way around.

“I did do the deep dive yesterday, and it’s a little more complicated than I thought,” Roe said.

Roe said it’s worth a try. “Right now rural America is fighting for its life. We’re establishing city-states around the United States. If you look at what’s happening around Nashville to describe that as a boom is to do a disservice to booms. It is absolutely growing like I’ve never seen in my life. We’re not, and we need to become more of a region.”

A combined MSA would total about 510,000 people, ranking it 108th nationally. Currently, Kingsport-Bristol’s MSA ranks 163rd and Johnson City’s 220th out of 384 such areas nationwide.

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