By Emily LeCoz
Tupelo knocked Greenville out of seventh place this year in the state’s top 10 cities by population.
1. Jackson – 173,861
2. Gulfport – 70,055
3. Hattiesburg – 51,993
4. Biloxi – 45,670
5. Southaven – 44,076
6. Meridian – 38,232
7. Tupelo – 36,233
8. Greenville – 35,764
9. Olive Branch – 31,830
10. Clinton – 26,313
SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau
By Emily Le Coz
TUPELO – Northeast Mississippi’s largest city continued to grow in 2008 and has surpassed Greenville in population, according to estimates released Wednesday by the U.S. Census Bureau.
If the pattern continues – and if Tupelo is successful in its ongoing annexation attempt – it also could overtake Meridian by the 2010 census.
If so, it would become the sixth largest city in the state, up from its newly acquired rank at No. 7.
Tupelo grew by 0.6 percent from its 2007 count and 5.8 percent since the latest official census at the turn of the century, according to the numbers. Its current population stands at 36,233.
“I think it’s a good thing,” said Tupelo Mayor Ed Neelly. “Certainly that means there are more people moving here than leaving. It hadn’t been a period of real big growth for many people in our state, so I think that’s a good sign of stability for our city.”
Tupelo wasn’t alone in the gains. All incorporated cities in Lee County have swelled since the past census, from 1.1 percent in Baldwyn to a whopping 6.1 percent in both Saltillo and Shannon. Each also made small gains over 2007.
The estimates were released as the U.S. Census Bureaus gears up for the 2010 census, a massive undertaking whose early preparations already have begun.
“As the 2010 Census approaches, these population estimates provide a sense of the population trends throughout the decade,” said Tom Mesenbourg, the Census Bureau’s acting director in a press release.
Most of Northeast Mississippi’s largest communities also grew. Starkville gained 10.4 percent and New Albany 7.3 percent since the turn of the century. But it was Oxford that made the most staggering gains – more than 45 percent since 2000 – thanks to a bustling housing market and a recent annexation.
The popular college town went from 11,756 people eight years ago to 17,265 today.
The region’s only major city to experience a steady decline was West Point. It lost 0.6 percent of its population since 2007 and 6.9 percent since the turn of the century.
“A lot of it can be attributed to a loss of industry,” said Jeff Rowell, president of the West Point/Clay County Community Growth Alliance. “The loss of the Bryan facility and other industry that were connected to it had a definite impact.”
Rowell said the community is trying to reverse that trend by creating new jobs and retaining those that already exist, but he said the nation’s sagging economy has made that difficult for West Point and everyone else.
The state capital also continued its decades-long downward trend. Jackson lost another 1 percent of its residents between 2007 and 2008, leaving the state’s largest city with a total population of 173,861 – 5.6 percent less than in 2000.
Gulfport, Biloxi, Meridian and Greenville also lost residents, although Gulfport’s population has started to climb again. Both Gulfport and Biloxi were affected by Hurricane Katrina nearly three years ago.
Other large cities continued to grow. The college town of Hattiesburg added more than 1,300 people and the Memphis suburb of Southaven gained nearly 1,600, both since 2007. Southaven’s population shot up by more than 50 percent in the past eight years.
Mississippi, as a whole, gained 17,588 residents – or 0.6 percent – from 2007.
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or firstname.lastname@example.org.