Hacking local business: observations on Smith County’s economy

I try to avoid thinking about economics.  It’s not a subject of contemplation that I enjoy. Nevertheless, my choices are driven in part by economics. The stress of personal economics contributed to my wife and I separating. It influenced her decision to move to Tyler and my capacity to follow. Economics, in this case a lease, is what kept me from moving earlier in the summer. And, of course, the United States is in a tremendous economic recession, which colors everything.

Amidst the the chaos, I’m changing jobs.

Given all of this, it seemed important that I learn something about the economics of my new home. One thing I do know about Texas is that it has weathered the recession remarkably well. Observers disagree about why this is, but for whatever reason the unemployment rate in Texas has consistently lagged 1-2% behind the US average. The regional economy of Smith County reflects this statewide trend:

Note: The Texas and United States unemployment rates have been seasonally adjusted. Seasonally adjusted data is not available for Smith County. Click the image for raw data and an interactive version of the graph.

To aid my exploration of the local economy I dove into the 2010 annual summary of the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and built myself an economic atlas of sorts:

Launch Smith County economic atlas

All sorts of useful information can be gleaned from this data—from banal to the highly curious. Here are a few highlights:

  • Last year in Smith County, 91,323 employees working at 5,383 places of business were paid 3.6 billion dollars.
  • The medical industry bears out its reputation as the cornerstone of the local economy—Trinity Mother Frances and East Texas Medical Center are the city’s two largest employers. All told, Health care and social assistance accounted for 26.23% of all payroll in 2010, not including government services.
  • Tyler is also known for hosting several major manufacturing companies, including Carrier and Trane. This is reflected in the 7.08% of all workers employed by the manufacturing sector. However, recent reports of layoffs at Trane seem to indicate that at least one regional employer is feeling the effects of stressed incomes in the broader US.
  • Car culture is in full evidence: Motor vehicle and parts dealers encompass 2.08% of all business establishments (the most of any Retail trade subsector). Gas stations represent another 1.62% and Auto repair businesses another 1.75%.
  • Smith County has virtually no significant natural resources: only 2.65% of all employees work in “Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction" and "Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting" sectors combined.

Although my employment is secure for the moment, one hypothetical question that arose while I was researching this data is: If I had to find a job in Tyler, could I?

The numbers tell unfortunate truths: in private industry only 160 individuals are employed in the Computer systems design and related services industry group. Another 38 are employed by Software publishers. And last, but certainly not least, Tyler has 13 employees laboring tirelessly in an upstart industry called “Newspaper publishers”.  Notably this last category falls under the subhead, “Publishing industries, except Internet.” Literally no one is recorded as being employed in the sibling enterprise, “Internet publishing and broadcasting.”

A silver-lining on this must be noted though: whether by local anomaly or statistical error, those 13 “Newspaper publishers” are working in the 7th best paying industry in Smith County. According to the data, their average salary in 2010 was $109,778.