News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion
SUNDAY, JUNE 25, 2006


Letís hear debate on why Alabama lags

Alabama's mid-decade census figures have about the same net effect as the economic changes that take place in some towns.

One smaller city in particular seems to be growing on first glance because of new retail and commercial buildings. But a closer look shows that the city is only rearranging the furniture.

Shops move out of old buildings and into new ones, and new businesses replace those that are closing. The city lost population during the mid-decade count.

Who gained population at mid decade and who lost always creates angst as well as elation. But in reality, Alabama is doing little more than redistributing its 4.5 million population.

Latest census figures show that Alabama grew 2.5 percent during the period while the nation grew at more than twice that rate, or 5.3 percent.

Poor Birmingham is losing population at a clip that endangers its status as the state's largest municipality. Montgomery, the seat of political power in the state, threatens to dominate in other areas, also.

But the people leaving Birmingham are not going far. Look at Pelham in neighboring Shelby County. It grew 35.2 percent, largely at Birmingham's expense.

Moody, in St. Clair County to the east of Birmingham, was once a rural crossroads. Its population is now 10,764, a 33.5 percent increase. Most of those new residents came out of Jefferson County, too.

The figures show a trend of migration to smaller cities, even at Decatur's level. Our city grew 0.9 percent for the 12-month period starting July 1, 2004, while Huntsville did little better at 1 percent. Meanwhile Madison and Athens recorded 2.3 percent and 2.7 percent growth respectively for that 12-month period.

Here, Hartselle grew 1.7 percent and Priceville, drawing from Decatur and Madison County, 4.1 percent.

People seek smaller communities for a variety of reasons. But wherever they live within a state, a Metropolitan Statistical Area or county, their presence has an economic impact on the region's economic success.

So, rather than worry so much about why a city's growth isn't more, city leaders need to focus on the state.

Again, the nation grew at 5.3 percent while Alabama grew at 2.5 percent. Morgan County grew even less at 2.4 percent and Lawrence County actually lost people.

Gov. Bob Riley campaigns vigorously on Alabama's star status in industrial recruitment, yet our population growth suggests we might be simply rearranging the furniture.

Why Alabama is lagging the nation so badly in growth should be the focus of this fall's gubernatorial race. Feel-good politics can cover up real problems, including stymied growth.

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