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FRIDAY, MARCH 23, 2007

Madison County among growth leaders

BIRMINGHAM (AP) — Shelby, Baldwin and Madison counties were the fastest growing among Alabama counties since 2000, signaling that Blount and Walker likely are headed for major growth, too, according to U.S. Census figures released Thursday.

As expected, Shelby County grew the fastest, at 24 percent, as it added 34,889 residents since 2000 to reach 178,182. Baldwin grew by 20 percent, adding 28,747 residents to raise the coastal county's population in 2006 to 169,162. Madison, up by nearly 10 percent, has grown by 27,607 to 304,307.

The seven-county Birmingham-Hoover metro area grew by 11,801 people in one year, with more than half of that growth in Shelby, according to figures released by the Alabama State Data Center at The University of Alabama's Center for Business and Economic Research.

Two metro-area counties that could be on the verge of major growth are Blount and Walker, data center manager Annette Watters said. The two counties could soon face growth similar to what Shelby had in the 1990s, like it or not.

Blount, which has grown by nearly 11 percent since the 2000 census, is the third-fastest growing county in the metro area, behind St. Clair and Shelby, according to census data.

Jefferson County, for the first time since the 2000 census, showed an increase in population, but it added just 686 people from 2005 to 2006. Jefferson County continues to have more people moving out than people moving in, said Watters.

Mobile County's population grew by 1.1 percent from 2000 to 2006 after declines in 2002 and 2003.

Montgomery County's population grew by only 61 people from 2000 to 2006 to 223,571. But the four-county metro area of Autauga, Elmore, Lowndes and Montgomery grew from 346,528 to 361,748 during that span.

Population losses were posted in some rural counties. Perry, Greene, Macon, Bullock, Choctaw, Sumter, Lamar and Coosa counties lost between 6 percent and 9 percent of their total population since the 2000 census.

More than half of the state's 67 counties now have fewer people than they did in 2000, said Watters.

"The counties with reduced populations tend to be rural counties, but some of Alabama's metropolitan areas have lost population over this decade," Watters said.

Etowah and Lauderdale counties have had both gains and losses over recent years, with population losses just slightly more than the gains.

All seven counties in the Birmingham metro area showed some growth. St. Clair County was second to Shelby with an additional 10,490 residents from 2000 to 2006.

"The whole metro area is showing a lot of vibrancy," said Watters.

Jefferson County Commission President Bettye Fine Collins said the key to maintaining growth will be the completion of the Northern Beltline, a 51-mile stretch of interstate that will connect to Interstate 459 at Bessemer and I-59 near Trussville.

The work will be done in five segments and could take 20 years to finish.

"Once that's completed, you are going to see an economic boom," Collins said.

Shelby County Commission Chairman Dan Acker said the only threat to Shelby County's continued growth is traffic congestion.

"If we don't get some money (from the state or federal governments) for transportation, it's probably going to start slowing down."

But Acker said not to expect that to happen any time soon.

"We've been No. 1 in growth for a long time, and we're going to stay No. 1."

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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