Area cities on verge of growth

Published 7:33 am Wednesday, April 20, 2005

By By Michele Gerlach
Population growth patterns were the news of the day on Friday in Alabama.
Analysis conducted by the Alabama State Data Center at The University of Alabama revealed that Mobile County has experienced only a 0.25 percent growth – less than 200 people per year – since the year 2000, while neighboring Baldwin has had an 11 percent growth rate, gaining more than 16,000 residents in the same years.
As bitter a pill as that may be for the Mobile metro area to swallow, it pales in comparison to the exodus from the Birmingham metro area, where Jefferson and Walker Counties have lost population and neighboring Shelby County has had the highest growth rate in the state, gaining 5,600 people a year.
In the Tri County region of Escambia, Conecuh and Monroe counties, Escambia County's population remained almost stable. The county lost 104 of its 38,440 residents, or 0.3 percent. Our neighbors, Conecuh and Monroe, didn't fare quite so well. Conecuh's population decreased by 4.5 percent, or 636 residents, while Monroe's population decreased by 599, a 2.5 percent loss.
In the midst of all the numbers were some interesting facts about growth in rural areas.
Four of the 24 counties that have grown during the 21st century are part of the new concept of micropolitan area, Annette Watters, who analyzed the data, said.
"The new terminology of micropolitan area recognizes that the designated counties anchor a small, but important, local economy centered around a city that is sizeable (10,000 to 25,000), but not large enough to be considered a metropolitan area," Watters said.
In Alabama, DeKalb County is the Fort Payne Micro Area; Marshall County is the Albertville Micro Area; Cullman County is the Cullman Micro Area; Coffee and Dale counties together are the Enterprise-Ozark Micro Area
So what would it take for our Tri County region to become a micropolitan area that has slow, steady growth?
If you look at the cities in the three county area, it adds up something like this.
Atmore's population is 7,676. East Brewton (2,496) and Brewton (5,498) have a combined total population of 7,994. In both ends of the county, cities have seen residential growth just outside the corporate limits and will probably be forced to consider expanding the corporate limits in the near future.
Monroeville is the next largest in the area, with 6,862 residents.
Add 2,500 residents to Atmore and it could become "micropolitan." The greater Brewton area would need about 2,000.
But it could happen.
Experts say the I-65 corridor between Montgomery and Mobile will be the next developed part of our state. Consider that Hyundai is south of Montgomery, many Hyundai suppliers are in the Greenville area and rumors are swirling that another supplier is currently looking in Evergreen. Interstate development is moving our way.
Or, if the Poarch Creek Indians moved forward with proposals to develop a casino near the existing Bingo Palace that was a destination location, surrounded by a golf course, a water theme park, and shopping, the growth would come quickly there.
Us, micropolitan.
Can you imagine it?
Michele Gerlach is the Publisher of the Brewton Standard.

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