Population data could be a guide

By BRYAN DAVIS EDITOR,

The Southeast is growing in numbers.

Migration to the Southern states has increased just over 8 percent since 2010, according to John Greene, Director of the Center for Population Studies at the University of Mississippi.

Greene spoke Tuesday to the Indianola Rotary Club, and while he noted the South’s recent uptick in population growth, he quickly noted that Mississippi is not one of the states driving that rise.

Urban centers like Nashville and Atlanta are attracting people from across the United States, but Mississippi has grown at about 0.6 percent during the same time period, he said.

Sunflower County, more specifically, has dropped around 12.4 percent of its population since 2010, with around 3,600 fewer people living in the Delta county than did a decade ago.

While Sunflower County’s birth to death ratio is fairly balanced – there have been around 200 more births than deaths over the past 9 years – the net out migration patterns show a domestic loss of about 4,000 people during that time.

We have written at length over the past few years about the negative effects of population decline, but the news is not all bad, Greene said.

For one, Greene noted that growing population centers like Lafayette County, an area with the highest percentage population increase in the state in the past several years, faces its own set of challenges.

With new population comes increased demand for housing, and if supply does not meet the demand, housing prices often rise as a result.

There are also educational issues, as more families move to centers where the best schools are located, causing overcrowding.

These are just to name a couple.

While Sunflower Countians may view this as a good problem to have, it might be wise to focus on the data presented by Greene on Tuesday in order to make better and more informed decisions about community projects and economic development.

Taking away the roughly 4,500 inmates at Parchman, which are indeed counted in the Census, Sunflower County has seen a decrease in the number of working age individuals and families.

Most communities across the United States are beginning to feel the effects of an aging population that will only increase over the next decade.

Measures definitely need to be put into place to help combat population decline and attract more people and jobs to Sunflower County and the Delta, but community leaders should also take the data available and use it to address the needs of those who are here and will presumably be here for years to come.

To Greene’s point, an aging population will demand new and expanded services, especially when it comes to healthcare.

I’ve written this before, and I’ll do it again and say that this may be Sunflower County’s best play when it comes to economic development over the next decade.

We’d all love to land a big manufacturing plant, but the reality is that over the past five years, those have been few and far between, even in population centers in Mississippi.

We should always strive to grow our younger workforce, as well as manufacturing jobs, but there are a lot of economic benefits to focusing on healthcare.

For one, Sunflower County already has a strong foundation when it comes to medical providers. In fact, we’re arguably the strongest in the region, with two solvent county-owned hospitals.

The healthcare industry consistently produces well-paying jobs, and they are jobs that tend to be in demand all of the time.

Plus, if Sunflower County made itself a regional medical destination, area businesses would benefit from the daily traffic created by this.

I’m not 100 percent sure exactly what this type of economic development project looks like as a finished product, but I’ve got to think that it’s worth exploring.

The younger population is not going to return unless there are jobs, and jobs are not coming unless it makes sense from a population standpoint.

If we are to make the highest and best use of the latest population data, then a healthcare focus has to be part of the overall solution to the region’s problems.

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