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Tax data: Evacuees putting down roots in Mobile County

MOBILE (AP) — Nearly 2,300 Hurricane Katrina evacuees have made Mobile County their new home, with another 723 relocating to Baldwin County, according to a newspaper analysis of tax records.

The Internal Revenue Service information reviewed by the Press-Register showed the migration that occurred between tax statements filed in 2005 and 2006, the latest such records available to the newspaper.

The IRS allowed Katrina victims to file their 2006 tax returns up to four months later than the usual April deadline.

Annette Watters, a demographer at The University of Alabama’s State Data Center, said while no records on population movement are perfect, “those county-to-county IRS migration files are just about the best statistical database that there is.”

According to the records, about 215,000 residents fled coastal counties in Mississippi and southeast Louisiana after the hurricane and were still residing elsewhere when they filed their federal taxes in 2006.

Mobile County

For those leaving Mississippi, Mobile County was the leading destination, with 1,357 of those residents moving here.

Watters said Mobile might have gotten more new residents but for the massive damage done to Alabama coastal areas like Bayou La Batre.

After Katrina, the influx of storm victims helped Mobile County gain population through migration for the first year since 1993. According to the tax data, 1,223 more people moved in than moved out between 2005 and 2006.

New industries

The positive migration following Katrina coincides with the arrival of new industries and companies.

In the coming months German steel company ThyssenKrupp AG is to start employing about 10,000 workers a year for the next three years to build a $3.7 billion plant in north Mobile County.

Baldwin County has been reaping an increase in new residents for two decades — 57,000 more people have moved in than moved out since 1985, helping make it one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation.

Baldwin added about 3,800 residents through migration in 2006, and about 4,200 the year before, according to the tax data.

“As the population grows, the need for services grows,” said Bill Sisson, the vice president of economic development for the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce.

“For every manufacturing position that’s created, there are numerous service industry positions created. So you get a success begetting success phenomenon.”

Last summer, the U.S. Census Bureau said it believed that Mobile County had actually lost about 2,500 residents following the hurricane, but several local officials scoffed at the figures, saying that the crowded restaurants, stores and apartment complexes in west Mobile told a different story.

Watters said she believes that many people uprooted by Katrina still haven’t made their final decision on where to live.

, and that governments that aggressively make their areas attractive can reap more population growth.

“A lot of the outcome of this will turn on political decisions that are made locally,” she said. “With every bad thing that happens, there follows opportunities for people in the right niche.”

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

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