Industry, University of Alabama help fuel population growth across Tuscaloosa County

Jason Morton
The Tuscaloosa News
Despite an exodus of approximately 20,000 college students last year, Tuscaloosa -- as well as Tuscaloosa County and all of its cities, towns and communities -- grew in population over the past decade, according to newly released data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The population across Tuscaloosa County, from the largest cities to the smallest towns, grew during the past decade, according to newly released data from the U.S. Census.

Tuscaloosa County’s overall population climbed 16.6%, from 184,656 in 2010 to 227,036 in 2020, in what came as no surprise to Tuscaloosa County Commission Chairman Rob Robertson.

Robertson, who also serves as the county’s probate judge, said Tuscaloosa County is projected to continue growing through at least 2030 and possibly 2040, based on growth trends predicted for the automotive sector, local industry and the University of Alabama, among others.

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“There’s a lot of attractive things about Tuscaloosa County,” Robertson said, “and I do anticipate this growth to continue.

“A lot of migration seems to be underway and there’s a lot of benefits within the borders of this county. I think that’s becoming apparent to more and more people.”

The county’s overall growth was spurred, in part, by the city of Tuscaloosa, which swelled by almost 10,000 residents – 90,468 10 years ago to 99,600 in 2020 – for an increase of 10.1%.

Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox celebrated the increase, highlighting that the growth came despite more than 20,000 University of Alabama students leaving the city as the coronavirus pandemic spread across the nation.

“With 20 percent of our population leaving, we were worried that we might drop below our 2010 census population,” Maddox said, noting that the city worked with the U.S. Department of Commerce and UA to get 10,800 on-campus students automatically counted.

“We are hopeful the census bureau will take into account university cities and their unique circumstances,” Maddox said. “Regardless, our future is bright.”

The growth was even larger when you look at the Tuscaloosa census county division, or CCD, which is essentially a geographical area used by the Census Bureau and officials of state and local governments in 21 states – including Alabama – to ensure fair and equal comparisons of population and other demographical statistics.

The Tuscaloosa CCD, or geographical area, climbed 11%, from 116,662 in 2010 to almost 130,000 in 2020.

Outside of Tuscaloosa, the CCDs for the county’s smaller towns and cities saw even larger increases, according to the census statistics.

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The county’s second-largest city, Northport, climbed 26.5%, from right at 30,000 people in 2010 to almost 38,000 in 2020.

Northport Mayor Bobby Herndon said he believes that growth to be a reflection of residents wanting big city conveniences but a small-town atmosphere.

“I hate to be considered a bedroom community to Tuscaloosa – Northport is its own city – but people are wanting to get out of the bigger city and maybe come to where it’s not quite as congested and maybe a little more laid-back,” Herndon said. “I think that has something to do with it.”

While the Elrod-Moores Bridge-Echola area saw the smallest increase at 6%, from 1,545 in 2010 to 1,647 in 2020, no area increased more than the Big Sandy-Duncanville area, which increased from 9,260 in 2010 to 12,249 in 2020 – an increase of 32.3%.

But almost all of the small towns and communities across Tuscaloosa County saw double-digit increases in their populations between 2010 and 2020.

Brookwood, for example, climbed 26.2%, from 4,520 residents a decade ago to 5,706 in 2020.

First-term Mayor Joe Barger linked this growth to the town’s businesses and industries, such as Warrior Met Coal Inc., which reopened the former Jim Walter Resources coal mines; schools – it has an elementary, middle and high schools within its borders – and recreation offered at its centrally-located park and community center.

The small-town feel doesn’t hurt, either, he said.

“Brookwood is a great family town,” Barger said. “I always say Brookwood is a good place to live, work and play, and I believe those three elements are what keeps people coming.”

The other towns, communities and geographical areas that grew from 2010 to 2020 are:

Abernant: from 9,955 to 12,906 – a 29.6% increase

Coaling-Vance: from 7,678 to 9,258 – a 20.6% increase

Coker: from 3,721 to 4,386 – a 17.9% increase

Fosters: from 3,043 to 3,776 – a 24.1% increase

Samantha: from 5,182 to 5,805 – a 12% increase

Windham Springs: from 3,083 to 3,865 – a 25.4% increase

Reach Jason Morton at jason.morton@tuscaloosanews.com.