A related map, showing the change in exports adjusted for county population, offers a similar picture of the fundamental trend in Tennessee county exports: an increasing concentration of state exports in several regional pockets. Though to a degree the pockets align with the state's metropolitan areas, they are better understood as formed around the location of the state's major export industries: automotive, chemical, and health care.
The red counties in this map are those that actually saw their exports decline over the past 15 years. If we adjust to account for inflation and for population growth, 31 Tennessee counties exported less per capita in 2010 than they did in 1995. This is nearly one-third of the state's counties. Our last map breaks out these counties. Surprisingly, this includes Montgomery County along with a scattering of counties in Appalachia and on the Cumberland Plateau. The largest concentration of export losses, however, has been across the rural counties of west Tennessee. The situation would appear direr if we did not adjust for population losses in some of these counties. This part of the state is not home to any major state export industry. Losses in older manufacturing, apparel, and commodity sectors have not been balanced by gains in other economic sectors.
The trend of the past 15 years reinforces and underscores the patterns we identified over the past several issues. Tennessee exports are becoming relatively more concentrated, sectorally and geographically. Counties that are home to flourishing export industries account for an ever larger part of the state's foreign shipments. While nearly one-third of the state's counties were losing exports in real terms, 16 other counties saw their exports per capita more than double over this same period. Five of these counties ring Chattanooga, and two others (Cannon and Coffee) are in the "transportation corridor" between that city and the Nashville MSA. Maps make this apparent.
In sum, while we cannot call the change over the past 15 years dramatic, there has been a pattern to it. In a nutshell, in export terms, the rich have gotten richer and the poor poorer. The only region of Tennessee that can make a claim for much of a deviation from this is the area around Chattanooga. Hamilton County and five of the six counties surrounding it have all risen in the state's county export rankings, no matter what their position in 1995 (the exception is Sequatchie County). Otherwise, a continuing concentration of activity has been the main geographic trend to Tennessee's exports over the past 15 years.
[continued: TN international trade report »]