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Tennessee's economy may return to "normal" at end of 2022

The Boyd Center at the University of Tennessee made short and long-term predictions for the state's economy after a year gripped by a global health crisis.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — In an annual report analyzing Tennessee's economy, UT's Boyd Center predicts growth is on the horizon, but it won't be back to pre-pandemic levels for a couple of years.

After a year gripped by a global health crisis, the forecast for what Tennessee's economy will look like in the short term relies heavily on the success of the vaccine. 

"The first half of 2021 will see moderate growth as the virus continues to shape our recovery. and then we'll hopefully see stronger growth in the second half of the year," Larry Kessler, the research associate professor and project director for the report said.

While things will start to look up in 2021, there are still 116,000 fewer workers on payroll this year than last.

Tennessee has seen more unemployment claims in 36 weeks than during the entire "great recession" more than a decade ago.

"We're projecting that non-firm employment will not fully recover to pre-pandemic levels until the middle of 2023," Kessler explained. "Even then, some sectors are gonna take longer to recover as other as there's gonna be some scarring." 

The manufacturing sector isn't expected to fully recover until 2030. That's because employers are choosing to use more automation than before.

The leisure and hospitality industry won't have full employment back until 2024.

The owner of the Ramsey Hotel and Event space in Sevier County, Karl Thomas, is more optimistic after a positive fall tourism season in Sevier County.

"This fall has shown me there is a future, A bright future out there," Thomas said. "We've actually rebounded faster than any of the areas that I've been watching. Sevier County has rebounded a lot faster."

The COVID-19 vaccine is helping the economy gain momentum. UT said its predictions rely heavily on the success of those shots.

Right now, Tennessee is on track with the rest of the nation for rebounding its economy.

To read the full report, click here.