Opportunity, but where? State’s areas of growth prosper for the same reasons

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Give Alabama credit. Its consistency in certain areas is noteworthy.

That viewpoint is derived from data from the U.S. Census Bureau, whose latest survey shows the Alabama counties that have historically made significant population gains continue to do so. Meanwhile, those counties that often lose population year-to-year are still dropping.

To no one’s surprise, rural counties are the losers, especially those in the Black Belt and in the southwest corner of the state. Meanwhile, metro-area counties continue to grow.

Yanyi Djamba, director of the Center for Demographic Research at Auburn University Montgomery, has summed it up neatly: “Those very poor areas, the Black Belt area, continue to lose population because of the lack of opportunity.”

Which begs the question, what opportunities are lacking? Or, to turn the question around, what opportunities are drawing people to the counties where the population is growing?

The answer, of course, is the opportunity to work, but it’s as much about the kind of employment as it is the jobs themselves.

Tuscaloosa County, one of Alabama’s growth counties, offers a major automotive plant and the University of Alabama. Both provide jobs and attract spin-off businesses that create more opportunities. However, Montgomery County also has a major automotive plant, but it lost population. Why? Because budget cuts led to a shrinking state workforce, and when the jobs disappeared, the workers left.

Meanwhile in counties such as Russell and Lee, the growth of Fort Benning, just across the Georgia state line, brought in transfers who settled in Alabama. Auburn University is a major factor. However, AU and Fort Benning did little to help nearby Macon County, which had the largest percentage population loss in the state, according to Census data.

Other growth counties were Limestone, which benefitted from its proximity to Madison County and Huntsville, one of the most prosperous counties in the state, and Baldwin County, which is close to Mobile and its public and private jobs and has one of the most pleasant climates in the state.

When new arrivals are asked why they chose counties like Madison, Limestone, Lee, Tuscaloosa and Baldwin, they invariability point to job opportunities, amenities (entertainment, shopping, etc.) and good schools.

That tells us that in these counties, many of the employment opportunities depend as much on the state and the federal government as on the private sector. Cutting back the state and federal workforce means trained professionals who have settled here will start looking elsewhere.

Here’s more proof that opportunity in Alabama is often dependent on state and federal assistance. To limit that is, as the old saying goes, “cutting off our nose to spite our face.”

Read more: Anniston Star – Editorial Opportunity but where State’s areas of growth prosper for the same reasons

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