A Spotlight on the Mid-South States: The Kiplinger Letter

Despite slow or no job growth, the overall outlook for the mid-south region remains mostly positive due to in-migration and key business sectors boosting the economy.

picture of downtown Little Rock, Arkansas
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Kentucky is on track for the best job growth across the mid-South region in 2024: A 1.3% uptick. That’s half of 2023’s gain, but still respectable. Construction activity is going strong across the commercial and industrial sectors, leading to a 15% jump in construction employment last year. The bourbon business is also a genuine economic engine: Bourbon accounts for half of all American whiskey, and whiskey in general is gaining popularity with U.S. drinkers. 10 million barrels of Kentucky bourbon are aging in storage now, and the Bluegrass State’s distilleries draw 1.5 million visitors a year. Staghorn is building a big new distillery in Lancaster that will produce 150,000 barrels per year. 

Alabama will see a job growth of 1.1%. Again, that’s lower than 2023, but part of the slowdown may be due to the state’s extremely low jobless rate of 2.4%. Fortunately, steady in-migration should grow the workforce. Aviation is big business in Mobile, where Airbus is expanding an assembly line that builds A220 passenger jets. A jobs training program is focusing on aviation-related training at a Mobile airport and automotive jobs in Decatur. An example of basic manufacturing coming to the U.S., to be closer to U.S. consumers: German appliance maker Miele is opening new plants in Opelika in 2026 and 2030, its first U.S. factories. 

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Tennessee is in for a significant slowdown, as job growth falls from 2.1% in 2023 to just 0.5% this year. Most industries except healthcare have been flat or down recently. But the overall outlook remains positive as new residents flock to Tennessee, drawn in part by its low taxes. The Volunteer State’s population is growing at the sixth-fastest rate in the country. But many people moving in are retirees, which limits gains in the labor force. The Nashville and Knoxville areas continue to serve as the major growth centers. In a nod to Nashville’s music industry, a big tourist draw, state lawmakers have outlawed AI impersonation of human voices. 

Arkansas will eke out 0.4% job growth this year, down from 2% in 2023. But again, the picture is positive overall. Hospitality and construction are booming, in-migration is going strong, and steelmaking is a bulwark for the state economy. Nucor is opening a new plant, which it boasts will have 80% lower carbon emissions than older plants. Mississippi County contains the largest steel-making capacity in the U.S., thanks to existing Nucor and U.S. Steel plants. Dassault Aviation, a maker of business jets, is expanding production at the airport in Little Rock, and a major new healthcare facility, Alice L. Walton School of Medicine, expects to open its doors soon in Bentonville.

Mississippi will see job growth flat-line this year. Outside of healthcare, most industries are shedding workers, though the state unemployment rate remains quite low at 3.3%. Cummins, Daimler and Paccar are building a facility to churn out batteries for electric trucks, that should be ready in 2027, at a cost of $2 billion. A ninth casino has been approved in Biloxi. And the Huntington Ingalls shipyard in Pascagoula will benefit from a $1 billion order from the Pentagon for an amphibious landing ship.

This forecast first appeared in The Kiplinger Letter, which has been running since 1923 and is a collection of concise weekly forecasts on business and economic trends, as well as what to expect from Washington, to help you understand what’s coming up to make the most of your investments and your money. Subscribe to The Kiplinger Letter.

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David Payne
Staff Economist, The Kiplinger Letter

David is both staff economist and reporter for The Kiplinger Letter, overseeing Kiplinger forecasts for the U.S. and world economies. Previously, he was senior principal economist in the Center for Forecasting and Modeling at IHS/GlobalInsight, and an economist in the Chief Economist's Office of the U.S. Department of Commerce. David has co-written weekly reports on economic conditions since 1992, and has forecasted GDP and its components since 1995, beating the Blue Chip Indicators forecasts two-thirds of the time. David is a Certified Business Economist as recognized by the National Association for Business Economics. He has two master's degrees and is ABD in economics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.