Guntown, Saltillo see fastest growth in Lee County

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Official 2010 Census numbers confirm that Tupelo’s population growth stalled this past decade while its northern suburbs grew – some with great gusto.
Guntown exploded at the seams, stuffing an additional 900 residents into its borders to earn a 76 percent growth rate, the highest in Lee County.
Saltillo swelled by 40 percent with 1,359 new inhabitants.
Nettleton, Plantersville, Shannon and Sherman also grew.
So did Tupelo, but its 1 percent gain fell short of the ambitious projections originally set by the U.S. Census Bureau. It had estimated last year that Northeast Mississippi’s largest city would grow by 4.7 percent – an increase of more than 1,600 residents.
Instead, it added 335.
Census Media Specialist Jenna Arnold said annual population estimates are based on migration, birth and death rates, but not hard numbers. It’s not rare, she said, to see large deviations between the latest estimates and the official census count.
Tupelo Mayor Jack Reed Jr. called the news of the small gains “sobering.”
“Certainly those figures would support my fresh thinking on what are Tupelo’s priorities,” he said. “Every city has its challenges; it’s how cities respond to those challenges that make it a great city.”
Reed last month proposed an initiative called the All America City Plan, which aims to stop middle-class flight by reinvesting in its older neighborhoods. It would require $15 million over the course of five years. The City Council has yet to vote on it.
Reed declined Friday to speculate on the factors slowing Tupelo’s growth, but he previously has lamented a perceived shortage of affordable and desirable homes.
The 1 percent growth since 2000 contrasts with Tupelo’s 11.5 percent increase in the 1990s.
Baldwyn and Verona both lost residents this past decade: Baldwyn’s population fell by 24, or less than 1 percent of its overall population; Verona declined by 328, a loss of nearly 10 percent.
“We try to improve things as much as we can to try to enhance growth in Verona,” said Mayor Bobby Williams. “It just hasn’t happened that much.”
Williams couldn’t explain the decline beyond citing a few boarded-up apartment complexes, vacant trailer parks and the death of several longtime residents.
“Verona stands in a good place: We’re just a few minutes away from the medical center, we’ve got two four-lane highways,” he said. “We can’t help but see growth in the future.”
Across the region, a few other cities shrank in population – Aberdeen, Houston and Ripley among them.
But most communities added people, including Oxford, which grew by 7,160 residents for a total population gain of nearly 61 percent.
Lee County itself grew by 9.4 percent, adding 7,155 residents.
The mayors of the fastest-growing cities showed little surprise at the census data this week.
“Why the growth?” said Saltillo Mayor Bill Williams. “No. 1, it’s the quality of our schools. No. 2 is our proximity to the regional shopping hub at Barnes Crossing. And No. 3 is our relative housing price is still a little bit lower than in some other areas; however, that’s changing.”
Adding hundreds of people to a community, of course, means expanding municipal services and even borders. Guntown, which experienced the county’s highest growth rate, is extending its water and sewer system. It’s also eyeing annexation.
“It’s hard to stay up with it the way it’s growing,” Herring said. “We’ve got real high hopes for Guntown. It’s going to be on map.”
It’s not going to be a competition, though, said Saltillo’s mayor. Williams said each community wants the best for itself but also for its neighbors. He specifically said that Tupelo’s success benefits everyone, and that he wants to see that city thrive.
So does Reed.
“Tupelo’s still the most significant city in Northeast Mississippi,” he said, “and I want to do everything I can to help it continue to be a great place for the people who live here and for the people who live around here.”
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@journalinc.com.