Can we stop town's population decline?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

A couple of weeks ago, I spoke at the Sikeston Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon and asked the audience one simple question.

I'll ask the same of you.

But first, some background.

In our small corner of the world in Sikeston, we have at long last some substantial growth, progress and improvements.

Short of listing each and every change, we have not one but two institutions of higher education with the SEMO Sikeston campus and soon a new Three Rivers campus here.

If all goes according to plan, we'll soon have a new eight-screen movie complex. Don't forget in the not-so-distant past, our community has watched the construction of a new BMU facility, a new Public Safety headquarters and a new building for the Sikeston Housing Authority.

Our medical facilities are expanding, new housing subdivisions are on the drawing board and our industrial park continues to be the envy of the region.

Historic Downtown Sikeston is having a major positive impact on our central shopping hub and the former Village Green Shopping area is now leveled and ready for a substantial improvement.

I could go on.

So the question is this: With these improvements and progress, why are we not gaining population? More importantly, why has our community lost population in every census since 1980?

Now let me be real honest. I don't have the answer or answers. And at this point, I'm not sure if anyone can make an accurate guess.

We seem to have a solid job market, ample housing, safety, schools, etc., all of the ingredients that promote growth and expansion in a community.

But still we see our census numbers drop consistently.

As I told the Chamber audience, I would not be overly alarmed but most - if not all - of our sister cities in this area are actually gaining population. Jackson, Cape Girardeau, Poplar Bluff and Farmington all have seen population gains during this same time frame.

Are we doing something wrong? Or is there something else we need to do to attract people here not just to work but to live?

Our public school population has declined in that same time frame and it doesn't appear likely this declining population trend will end anytime soon.

So there you have it. One simple question. Probably with many complex answers.

I doubt we need to appoint a blue ribbon commission to study this question because the history of such commissions is spotty to say the least.

But as individuals within this community, we need to ask ourselves why we fail to attract newcomers and what we can do to change this decline.

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