A meeting was held in Clarksdale last week to discuss the future of the community after a local company closed its doors and left 76 workers without jobs. The Clarksdale Press Register article provides a good summary of the meeting and the various perspectives of the public officials and community leaders. Opinions ranged from looking on the bright side for what we had to blaming the media. Pete Johnson, former co-chair of the Delta Regional Authority had this observation:
“For us to sit here and think we are not on the road to extinction we are kidding ourselves,” said Johnson after discussing the dramatic population declines in Clarksdale and other rural cities. “We are looking at a 40 year trend in rural America and it seems nothing is going to change that trend. Why do we sit here and think we can hope for an automobile plant or hope for these other things. Hope isn’t going to feed this gentleman’s family that just got laid off.”
The data support Johnson’s comments. Eleven counties in the Magnolia state touch the Mississippi River; nine of them lost population between 2000 and 2008, Tunica and DeSoto being the exceptions. During that same period 39 counties lost population. Three of those are on the Gulf Coast and lost population due to Hurricane Camille. The population of Mississippi, like that of most states, tends to be clustered in a few counties. In Mississippi’s case, 42.5% of the population live in the 10 most populous counties.
Understanding this data is one of the keys for rural Mississippi’s economic development strategies.