Angie Howarth has lived in northwest
Mississippi's DeSoto County for 35 of her 38 years, and she doesn't
need to study statistics to understand the area's dramatic growth.
All she has to do is get behind the wheel of van and sit in
traffic, or listen to her children as they talk about school.
"My children ... come home every other day and they have
somebody new in their class," Howarth said in a phone interview
from her business, Hernando Flower Shop.
Census Bureau figures for July 2000 to July 2006 - the most
recent numbers available - show DeSoto County moved from having the
fifth-largest to the third-largest population among Mississippi's
Hinds County, home of the capital city of Jackson, still has the
largest population. And coastal Harrison County, home of Gulfport
and Biloxi, still has the second-largest.
But while DeSoto is growing, Hinds has been seeing a slow,
steady decline in population as more residents pack up and move to
the suburbs in Rankin and Madison counties.
And, after having grown steadily this decade, Harrison County
saw a population decrease in the year after Hurricane Katrina blew
ashore on Aug. 29, 2005.
DeSoto County officials say the area is seeing exponential
growth as people move south from neighboring Memphis, Tenn.
DeSoto County saw a 33 percent population increase, going from
108,625 to 144,706 over the six years. That was an increase of
For perspective: 61 Mississippi counties have fewer than 36,000
In the past four years, DeSoto County has opened 10 new public
schools, going from 23 schools to 33. More are being built.
The local superintendent of schools, Milton Kuykendall, said
about 10 new families a day move into DeSoto County. Voters in 2004
approved a $115 million bond issue to cover the growth.
Kuykendall said he's not bragging when he notes that all the
county's schools are highly ranked. Mississippi uses five levels to
evaluate schools' performance, with Level 5 being the highest.
Kuykendall said 17 of DeSoto County's schools are Level 5, and 14
are Level 4.
"The number one reason people move to DeSoto County is they
want our teachers to teach their kids," said Kuykendall, who was
just re-elected to another four-year term.
There are growing pains for the schools. Before the bond issue
was approved, the superintendent said, some schools were forced to
hold classes in spaces that used to be restrooms.
The district is still working to move classes out of some
"I just think our children deserve better," Kuykendall said.
Howarth and her husband, Drue, own two businesses - the floral
shop and a video rental store. She said both are thriving, although
it's hard to know whether that's because of the population growth
or because of a healthy economy.
DeSoto County is seeing an expansion in other businesses, from
big-box retailers such as Target and Wal-Mart to smaller national
Howarth said with a growing population, there is a wider
selection of restaurants and there are more activities such as
youth soccer. That's good news for her family: The Howarths'
children are 6 and 10.
Howarth said some of the community's small-town feel is
"I think it has changed the character some, but the growth has
helped as well," Howarth said. "It's helped us to broaden our tax
base for one thing."
The Census Bureau published the July 1, 2006, population
estimates in June 2007.
From July 2000 to July 2006, the Census Bureau estimates that
Hinds County's population went from 250,593 to 249,012. That's a
loss of 1,581 people, or less than 1 percent.
During those six years, Harrison County went from 189,699
residents to 171,875. That's a loss of 17,824 people, or 9 percent.
Harrison County's peak population was 193,187 people in July
2005. There was a post-Katrina drop of 21,312 people, or 11