Tuscaloosa grows alongside the University

William Evans

The University is not alone in its rising population.

The city of Tuscaloosa experienced a 16 percent growth in population from 2000 to 2010, gaining about 12,500 more residents to reach a total of 90,468, according to U.S. Census estimates released in February.

“Tuscaloosa held it position as the fifth-largest city in the state of Alabama, falling behind Huntsville, Ala. but ahead of Hoover, Ala.”

Although Tuscaloosa city leaders hoped to reach 100,000 residents by 2010, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox said he is happy to see Tuscaloosa’s population on the rise.

“We fell short, but I feel confident in the years ahead,” he said.

The 100,000-benchmark is a symbolic goal city leaders established because population density is a factor researchers look at to evaluate the general nature of a city, Maddox said.

Student enrollment growth played a key role in Tuscaloosa’s population increase, said Carolyn Trent, socioeconomic analyst of the University’s center for business and economic research, in an emailed statement.

Enrollment rose from 19,318 in 2000 to 30,232 in 2010, bringing 10,914 more students to campus.

The expansion of the student body has stimulated the local economy during the doldrums of the recession.

“[T]he larger student body contributes to retail demand and sales in Tuscaloosa, which has helped Midtown Village add stores and restaurants even during the recession,” she said. “The University enriches the community with its cultural offerings and provides student volunteers for many local social service needs.”

The newly constructed amphitheater in downtown Tuscaloosa represents the attractions made possible for a college town with a large student population, which also facilitates recruiting new businesses and restaurants to the city, she said.

Tuscaloosa’s automobile industry, such as the Mercedes-Benz U.S. International plant in Tuscaloosa County, also contributed to the population increase.

“Other factors in the city’s population growth this decade include people moving from out of state for jobs in the auto industry as well as people relocating from nearby counties for job opportunities or to be closer to work,” she said. “Even though jobs declined in the recession, people tended to stay put as opportunities elsewhere didn’t look any better.”

The city’s population growth challenges city leaders to accommodate the new residents with local infrastructure, she said.

“Rapid growth places demands on local infrastructure, including public services, roads, and schools,” she said. “But growth from an expanding University population is the easiest in this respect as few students have school-aged children and the University itself provides some of the services and other infrastructure needed.”

Maddox said the disadvantages of declines in population outweigh the challenges to population growth, and it will increase tax revenue for the city, which will aid city leaders in their public works, he said.

“There are always challenges to growth, but they’re not as bad as the liabilities [of] not having growth,” he said.