Every state’s potential for the expansion of advanced energy technologies is shaped by economic factors and unique assets. TAEBC identified three distinctive features of Tennessee’s energy economy that together reflect the challenges and opportunities for the expansion of advanced energy technologies:

  1. High Per-Capita Energy Consumption
  2. A Gap in Personal Income
  3. The Potential of Three Major Players (and Who are They?)

In our last blog post, we elaborated on Tennessee’s high per-capita energy consumption, and for this post, we’ll focus on the gap in personal income.

While the size has fluctuated over the last three decades, there remains a historic gap between personal income in Tennessee and the national average. Although related indirectly to energy, this gap presents an opportunity in some regions of Tennessee to promote advanced energy as a vehicle for new companies and jobs.

While the U.S. per capita income rate grew by 72 percent between 1995 and 2010, income for Tennesseans increased by only 64 percent. Slower growth in Tennessee’s economy was accompanied by a reversal of the recent trend toward reaching the average U.S. per capita income. From the high water mark of 92 percent in 1995, Tennessee’s per capita income by 2012 had dropped to 88 percent of the national average, the lowest ratio in 17 years.[i]

Tennessee also required a longer period to recover from the economic deterioration that occurred from 2008-2010. The state’s unemployment rate of 6.7 percent in March 2014 represented the first time Tennessee had matched the national jobless figure since 2008. Statewide rates of unemployment and personal income serve to distort Tennessee’s economic picture, in which some regions are doing quite well while others continue to perform far below the state average.

This income and employment disparity among Tennessee’s regions is part of the context for discussing the state’s potential for creating advanced energy technology jobs.

A growing number of financially constrained local governments are looking at distributed generation and energy savings performance contracts as ways of reducing utility costs. The private sector increasingly is looking to cleaner sources of energy as a means of meeting sustainability goals and assuming more control over electricity costs. Many rural communities burdened with sustained double-digit unemployment may be particularly receptive to the idea of transitioning the local economy to include more advanced energy jobs. Likewise, the state of Tennessee has considerable flexibility in authorizing incentives for companies to locate in communities of high unemployment. Laid against the backdrop of a $1.1 trillion global economic opportunity presented by advanced energy, the state’s economic profile, and in particular the need to promote new jobs in a number of depressed regions, will be important factors in future discussions of how best to encourage the continued growth of an advanced energy economy in Tennessee.

[i]SA1-3 Personal Income Summary. Bureau of Economic Analysis. U.S. Department of Commerce. Retrieved from http://www.bea.gov.