OUR OPINION: Historic growth assets drove Tupelo expansion

Tupelo’s continuing effort to regain sustained growth in population and economic expansion hasn’t established any trends, but U.S. Census data released Thursday offers encouragement on at least one front: Tupelo’s population is projected to have grown 3 percent since 2010, the last official census count.

The 2010-2012 American Community Survey compiled by the Census found that Tupelo has 35,490 residents, about 1,000 additional residents compared to 2010.

Lee County’s population grew countywide, too, 2.6 percent from 2010, to 85,042, keeping the county firmly in second place behind DeSoto County as the most populous county in northern Mississippi.

The population cited in the latest census projection does not include residents officially annexed in 2012, which adds about 3,100 people to the population.

The longer-term growth of Tupelo is instructive in visioning what must be done to regain any lost momentum.

In 1940, at the tail end of the Great Depression and after TVA had established itself in Northeast Mississippi, Tupelo’s population was 8,212, not among the state’s largest municipalities, but healthily larger than the 1930 Census.

During the 1940s, Tupelo grew to 11,527, including the annexation of the former city of East Tupelo, a separate municipality with a separate school, which was taken into the city in the mid-1940s. The growth was 49.4 percent, driven by annexation but also including non-annexation gains.

During the 1950s, Tupelo grew to 17,221 in the 1960 Census, also with an annexation; by 1990, with additional annexations and other growth, Tupelo reached 30,685, and by 2000, the population reached 34,211.

Nothing like the population shifts driving growth in DeSoto County’s overflow from Memphis, or the counties adjoining Jackson/Hinds County, factored in Tupelo’s expansion. Strategic annexations and a sustained quality of housing, jobs, neighborhoods and schools drove Tupelo.

That steady and energetic vision must be recaptured to re-energize the qualities that defined Tupelo’s growth from its founding in 1870 to the end of the 20th century.

Tupelo kept pace with change and adapted for progress, including timely annexations to sustain the ability to grow. That’s the balance that must be reignited.