DeSoto County keeps climbing Mississippi population charts

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

82 counties.

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

36,081 people.

For perspective: 61 Mississippi counties have fewer than 36,000

residents each.

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

chain stores.

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

percent, over the next year.