Like much of the United States, the Memphis region has benefited from a strong economy in the '90s. Its trade, transportation, gaming and health services industries have established the Memphis region as a vibrant business environment. According to a study commissioned by the St. Louis Fed, however, rural counties in the region continue to suffer from a lack of growth in population, jobs and income. David H. Ciscel, economics professor at the University of Memphis, was asked to develop a portrait of the economic changes that have occurred during the past two decades in the Memphis region's rural and urban counties. Ciscel analyzed data for counties in the St. Louis Fed's Memphis zone, which comprises 39 counties in northern Mississippi, 21 counties in western Tennessee and 13 counties in eastern Arkansas. In addition to the Memphis metropolitan area, the region contains three smaller, but important, urban market centers: Jackson, Tenn.; Jonesboro, Ark.; and Tupelo, Miss. Based on his findings, Ciscel concluded that the rural economies of the Memphis region lag behind both the national economy and the area's urban economies on every significant measure of economic well-being:
To fill these gaps, Ciscel recommends that local economic development initiatives focus on integrating the economies of the rural and urban areas. He also believes that those interested in promoting growth in the Memphis region must recognize that the economic structure of the rural counties is evolving from an economy based on agriculture and manufacturing to one based on trade and services.
The Fed's Community Affairs Department will use the study's findings to better direct its economic development initiatives in the Memphis region. It also plans to distribute Ciscel's report to a number of Memphis-area financial institutions and community organizations. The report will be available on the St. Louis Fed's web site at http://stlouisfed.org/community_development/assets/pdf/urban_sprawl.pdf.