The Mississippi River traverses some 2,350 miles, making it the second- longest river in North America, about 100 miles shorter than the Missouri River. The Mississippi also is a major economic artery for the nation with about $300 million in goods that are shipped along it each day.
The Mississippi flows along or through five of the seven Southeast Region states — Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi. Only Alabama and Georgia are separated from the river.
Climate change is raising concerns for this byway. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency expects more severe floods and droughts along the river in the coming decades. Historic flooding in 2019 swamped farmlands along the river and delayed barge traffic, causing crops to spoil at ports. At times, debris in the river also has forced river traffic to be shut down at night.
The Mississippi’s health isn’t the only concern for the Southeast Region. The South spent the past century catching up economically with Northern and Western states, but it has seen setbacks in economic output and wage growth since 2009 as the region struggles with globalization.
The Southeast Region states — outside of Georgia and Tennessee — rank in the lower half of the pack in the U.S. in terms of gross domestic product (GDP), or the sum of all goods and services produced. Georgia notched the No. 11 ranking with $622.6 billion of GDP in 2020. Tennessee came in 20th at $369.6 billion.
Louisiana ranked No. 26 in the nation with $235.4 billion in GDP in 2020. Alabama was 27th ($226.9 billion) while Kentucky was 28th ($212.5 billion), Arkansas was 35th ($130.8 billion) and Mississippi was 36th ($113.8 billion).
Georgia served as home base for 18 of the nation’s Fortune 500 companies last year, led by Home Depot (No. 18), UPS (No. 35) and Coca-Cola (No. 93). Tennessee had 10 companies on the list, including FedEx, HCA Healthcare and Dollar General. Arkansas had six, including Walmart at No. 1 with $559 billion in revenue. Each of the other Southeast states had two or fewer Fortune 500 companies.
Enticed by generous tax incentives passed in 2008, movie production companies have set up shop in Georgia in recent years. The film industry employed 96,000 and added $2.2 billion to the Peach State’s economy in 2020.
In 2021, the U.S. population grew at its slowest rate since the nation’s founding, increasing by 0.1% or about 393,000 people. The U.S. Census Bureau attributed this to low birthrates, declining immigration and higher mortality rates due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Two states in the Southeast Region lost population from April 2020 to July 2021, according to the census bureau. Louisiana’s population declined by nearly 34,000 people during this time frame and Mississippi’s by nearly 11,000. Georgia and Tennessee gained the most residents in the region during the period, growing by 88,000 and 65,000 people, respectively. Georgia had the fifth-largest population gain among all states. ●
Home values have risen fast in the Southeast Region, but these states are still among the most affordable places in the country. Each of the states in the region have a typical home value below that of the U.S. as a whole, which was $325,677 as of January 2022, according to Zillow.
The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reported that prices for existing homes in the South jumped by 18.7% year over year this past January. NAR noted that the South region witnessed the highest pace of appreciation in the nation for a fifth straight month. (NAR defines the South region as 16 states that run from Delaware in the north to Florida in the south and Texas in the west.)
Real estate investors purchased a record 18.4% of U.S. homes in fourth-quarter 2021 and largely targeted Sun Belt states, according to a report from Redfin. Atlanta ranked No. 1 in the nation with 32.7% of homes sold during these three months being purchased by an investor, with an aggregate value of $2.86 billion. Nashville placed No. 9 on the list with a 21.4% investor share that totaled $800.3 million.
Focus: Music industry
Some of the most famous musicians come from the Southeast Region states. Elvis Presley was born in Mississippi, Hank Williams hailed from Alabama and Johnny Cash was from Arkansas. Louis Armstrong was born in Louisiana and Dolly Parton came from Tennessee.
The region also features iconic musical venues such as those on Beale Street in Memphis; the jazz and blues clubs in New Orleans’ French Quarter; and the Grand Ole Opry, Ryman Auditorium and The Caverns in and around Nashville. Music is not only part of the cultural legacy of the region, it’s also big business for many of these states. In 2020, the music industry contributed $5.8 billion in economic benefit to Tennessee (ranking No. 5 among all states) and employed more than 61,000 people there, good for seventh in the nation, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.
Georgia received $2.5 billion (No. 10 nationally) in economic benefit from this industry and some 45,000 people were employed by it (11th in the U.S.) About 30,000 people were employed in the music industry in Louisiana (No. 19 nationally) for an economic impact of $1.2 billion (No. 25).
What the locals say
“A home in a decent neighborhood in Georgia, even some of the bad ones, will get 20 to 30 offers before one day goes by. … I was having a conversation with my builder the other month, right before rates started to rise solidly in the 3s. He builds homes anywhere from $400,000 to over $1 million. Folks in that price range, the rising rates aren’t deterring them. They just need to find houses. It’s going to be a detriment for that person that can barely afford $200,000 or $300,000.”
Senior loan officer
3 Cities to Watch
A decade ago, European airplane maker Airbus chose Mobile for its first manufacturing plant in the U.S., a $600 million factory to assemble the company’s A320 single-aisle jets. Airbus now employs more than 1,000 in the city. Airbus and Lockheed Martin hope to win a contract for the Air Force’s next generation of air tankers and assemble the planes in the city. Mobile is the fourth-largest city in Alabama with a population of about 187,000. The city’s median household income is $42,321.
Many towns across the U.S. had five-and-dime stores in the early 1960s. Only one was fortunate to have one owned by Sam Walton. Bentonville, Arkansas (population 54,000) is the home of Walmart, the nation’s largest employer with 1.6 million workers. More than 14,000 Walmart corporate employees work in the city. The company is building a 350-acre campus with 2.4 million square feet of office space. The Walton family also created the world-class Crystal Bridges art museum in the community.
Rural counties in Kentucky lost thousands of people over the past decade while urban areas saw strong gains. This includes Louisville, the state’s largest city (1.26 million metro-area population.) Louisville grew by 5.7% from 2010 to 2020. The Gateway to the South is home to Churchill Downs, which hosts the Kentucky Derby, and the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory. Louisville’s major employers include UPS (25,100 employees), Ford Motor Co. (13,000) and health insurance company Humana (12,400).
Sources: 50 States of Music, Alabama Media Group, Alabama Public Radio, Business Insider, Churchill Downs, Daily Mail, Environmental Defense Fund, Forbes, Fortune, FrenchQuarter.com, Frommer’s, Greater Louisville Project, Louisville Courier-Journal, Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory, Memphis Travel, National Association of Realtors, National Park Service, Recording Industry Association of America, Redfin, Statista, The New York Times, The Travel, The Wall Street Journal, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Voice of America, Walmart, Zillow