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COLUMN: Oxford Mayor Says City is Growing at an Unprecedented Rate

Mayor Robyn Tannehill

The COVID-19 crisis will end. Of that, we can be sure. We do not know when, but just like after the pandemic of 1918, our country will eventually emerge from this uncertain time of quarantine. In times of great uncertainty and stress, it is easy to lose sight of the good things going on around us. Our communities suffer when fear and despair infiltrates and hate is allowed to fester.

As the national dialogue continues to be on the negative impacts of the pandemic, our economy, and our national election, the citizens of Oxford can look to the facts for encouragement.

Our city is growing at an unprecedented rate despite the national pandemic. People want to live, work and play in Oxford. As a result, people from all over the country are coming to invest in Oxford because they believe as I do – Oxford is going to continue to grow and thrive despite what is going on in the rest of the world.

We estimate Oxford’s population to be around 28,000. The new census numbers will be out soon. This is a growth of approximately 200% since 2000. The 2000 census reported Oxford at 13,677 and the 2010 census reported Oxford at 19,111. I realize this could be considered falsely inflated because of annexation. However, over the last 10 and 20 years Lafayette County has grown by 13.56% and 29.43% respectively ranking Lafayette County No. 6 among all Mississippi counties. Lafayette County is projected to be nearly 60,000 people by 2030, which would move us from 14th to 12th in the most populated Mississippi county rankings.

The median household income in Lafayette County grew by more than 65% between 2000 and 2018 which places us as No. 1 in growth in the state followed by Madison County at 63.23% and Lamar County at 54.81%. From 2014 to 2018 the gross domestic product of Lafayette County rose by nearly 28%, which ranks us 5th among all Mississippi Counties. This is particularly remarkable because we have such little industry and an extremely low unemployment rate.

Obviously, Oxford’s economy has been negatively impacted by the pandemic but my administration continues to look for ways to support local businesses and keep our community moving forward. As a result of our efforts, Oxford’s sales tax revenues have increased from our revenues for the same time last year over the past several months. That’s right, I said increased. This was an encouraging surprise. Our tourism taxes are suffering as expected but our food and beverage tax was up 2% in August 2020 compared to August 2019.

Despite the pandemic, many are choosing to build in Oxford. In 2017, there was $152M of construction permitted through the city of Oxford’s Building Department. The amount of construction permitted dipped to $111M in 2018 but was back up to $158M in 2019. Through October 2020 – with two months left – Oxford’s Building Department has issued $85M in construction permits.

My administration works with the Oxford-Lafayette County Economic Development Foundation to recruit business. With an unemployment rate that hovers around 3%, attracting large manufacturers is challenging at best. Corelogic, mTrade and NextGear are three success stories that have been founded in Oxford with support from the City, Lafayette County, and EDF. We have a successful Oxford Enterprise Center that was established to help small business start-ups, and is recognized as the most successful in North Mississippi. Oxford has been recognized by the Walton Foundation and the Heartland Foundation as an extremely successful micropolitan. A micropolitan is defined as an urban area with a population of at least 10,000, but less than 50,000. In fact, Oxford is the highest ranked micropolitan in Mississippi.

Lafayette County’s retail growth over the last 20 years has ranked us No. 1 in Mississippi with over $694,000,000 in retail growth as a county. Over the last 5 years, the retail growth exceeded $209,000,000 or 7th among all Mississippi Counties.

In 2018, the per capita personal income of Lafayette County was ranked 3rd in Mississippi, which means we have seen a 36% increase since 2010. Our economic growth score which takes into account population, employment growth, wage growth, per capita income growth, labor growth, assessed value growth, and retail sales growth ranks us No. 2 in the state – only behind Desoto County.

Development is happening on every corner of our community. Oxford Commons, Oxford Farms, The Lamar, Fieldstone Farms, Briarwood, Colonnade Crossing, Oakmont, Belle River Phase I and II; and Eastover are a few of the large developments under construction in our community.

People want to be here. They want to retire here. They want to find ways to commute to their jobs, so their kids can attend our wonderful schools. With this growth comes new challenges. We are victims of our success in some ways, and that shows up glaringly in our real estate prices. We will continue to make the goal of creating opportunities for affordable housing a priority.

The bottom line is that Oxford has a lot to be grateful for – regardless of the pandemic. Be encouraged that Oxford is growing at an unprecedented rate, and will continue to do so. Hopefully, we will be able to stop worrying about social distancing, wearing masks, being in quarantine, etc., in the near future, and focus our energy on the positive growth of our wonderful city.

We are stronger together.

Robyn Tannehill is the mayor of Oxford. You can reach her at robyn@oxfordms.net.

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