Numbers show modest growth, demographic shifts in Columbus

jmustian@ledger-enquirer.comMay 22, 2011 

While much of the Chattahoochee Valley has experienced significant growth over the past 10 years, Columbus’ population increased just 2 percent to 189,885, according to statistics released recently by the U.S. Census Bureau.

But Muscogee County has become increasingly diverse since the last decennial tally. Blacks now account for about 44.8 percent of the population, while whites make up about 43.6 percent.

The Hispanic population jumped to more than 12,000 people in Columbus, an increase of more than 44 percent over the last census. Asians, meanwhile, increased about 45 percent to a population of more than 4,000.

“The city is broader than it’s ever been before, and what I mean by that is that it’s more diverse,” Mayor Teresa Tomlinson said. “It’s going to create a different power structure that has to be all inclusive. We have more people with a different perspective at the table, and I find that very exciting.”

State Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus, said he was not surprised by the shifting demographics. “It’s been trending that way, and we’ve noticed that in the public school systems,” he said.

The 2010 statistics underscored a decades-long shift that has significantly altered the demographics of Columbus. Since 1980, the white population has plummeted by about 24 percent, while the black population has soared 47 percent.

Tomlinson said the census numbers confirmed that Columbus is losing growth to surrounding counties because it is “developed out.”

“It’s exactly what I expected,” Tomlinson said. “We’re losing more growth than I thought to Lee, Russell and Harris counties.”

The 2010 Census does not reflect much of the growth projected to accompany the Base Realignment and Closure changes at Fort Benning.

“I think it’s obvious that the census will increase with the BRAC program, said Carmen Cavezza, director of Columbus State University’s Cunningham Center for Leadership Development. “When you get 30,000-plus people, a lot of those people are going to live off post.”

But Tomlinson said the census shows Columbus has not attracted many of the residents who have already arrived.

“We thought we were going to be capturing more of that growth than we are,” Tomlinson said. “I’m already looking to the 2020 Census. When I see us taking a disproportionately small amount of growth with these types of opportunities, I have to get concerned.”

Outside Columbus

While Columbus’ growth has been modest, a number of area counties have seen far larger population gains. Harris County, for instance, increased its numbers by 35 percent to 32,024. The white population there has increased by about 34 percent, while the black population added about 19 percent, the census shows. Troup County’s population, meanwhile, has increased 14 percent to 67,044, and Talbot County grew about 6 percent to 6,865.

East Alabama has also seen steady growth. Russell County netted a 6 percent gain, increasing from 49,756 to 52,947, while Phenix City enjoyed a 16 percent gain and now has a population close to 33,000. Some of the most rapid growth in the region has been in Lee County, which grew about 22 percent over the past 10 years to 140,247.

Chattahoochee County decreased in population by about 24 percent to 11,267.

The census also means the redrawing of state and congressional districts. Georgia legislators will meet this summer to adjust the districts to reflect the shifts in population.

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