Evan Belanger. “Hispanic residents rise 74% in 7 years.” McClatchy - Tribune Business News. Washington: Apr 5, 2009.
According to the Market Street report, the county's largest manufacturing employer in 2008 was Wayne Farms, a chicken-processing plant, with 1,596 employees.
Apr. 5--Morgan County ranks among the top five in the state in foreign immigration, according to a BRAC-related economic and quality-of-life study.
And the county's Hispanic population increased more than 74 percent between 2000 and 2007, climbing from 3,645 to 6,350, the same study finds.
Overall, Hispanics made up about 6 percent of the county's total population in 2007. That compares to about 3 percent in Huntsville's metropolitan area. But those numbers could be skewed because the Census Bureau struggles to count undocumented immigrants
Released last week by the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce, the numbers come from the chamber's ongoing project to create a community-action plan for the area.
Officials hope the plan, funded by the county, city and chamber, will help achieve lasting economic and quality-of-life success.
Researchers with Market Street Services, an Atlanta-based consulting firm that compiled the information, said portions of the report released were intended to identify strengths and weaknesses of the community. The next phase will create a plan to deal with them.
The report says foreign immigration accounted for 28 percent of Morgan County's population growth between 2000 and 2007 -- the latest year with census numbers available.
That compares to 3 percent in Limestone County, 5 percent in Lawrence County and 9 percent in Madison County. Morgan County also ranked above the state average of 16 percent, but it came in below the national average of 36 percent.
Of the state's 67 counties, only Etowah, Lauderdale, DeKalb and Marshall had higher foreign immigration rates than Morgan County. Colbert County had an identical rate.
When researchers included birth and immigration, they found growth in the Hispanic community accounted for 68 percent of the county's overall growth between 2000 and 2007. That's 2,705 of the county's 3,986 net new residents.
Population growth
At the same time, researchers found population growth from domestic immigration -- residents moving from inside the United States -- accounted for 1 percent of the county's overall population growth.
"This is an unusually low percentage, meaning population growth is being driven primarily by a combination of international migration and higher birth rates instead of in-migration from other U.S. communities," researchers wrote.
Questioned about the immigration changes, J. Mac Holladay, chief executive officer for Market Street, said the growth in Morgan County is not unique.
"This is a phenomenon that we have seen really going back to the mid 1990s in a number of communities.... You do see it more prevalent in certain business and industry groups."
According to the Market Street report, the county's largest manufacturing employer in 2008 was Wayne Farms, a chicken-processing plant, with 1,596 employees.
"Jobs in chicken, beef and meat processing are traditionally lower wage," researchers wrote.
Positive impact
Holladay said the added diversity can have a positive impact.
"What most companies of all sizes -- the quality companies that you would want -- are interested in is having a diverse community," he said. "They're interested in having a work force with different experiences. We're very much a Technicolor South."
But local officials say a large immigrant population is taxing public services.
City Schools Superintendent Sam Houston said federal mandates require that non-English speaking children take standardized English tests after one year in the United States.
That can impact test scores, he said, since most research shows that it takes at least five years to become academically proficient in English.
Additionally, Houston said the school system spent more than $750,000 on its English Language Learner program last year, but it received $180,000 to fund the program.
Police Chief Kenneth Collier said undocumented immigrants can also impact crime rates since they tend to carry more cash, making them robbery targets.
He said the department struggles to reach that community because of language barriers and a general distrust of law enforcement, only now being overcome.
The department has three Hispanic officers and a few others who speak Spanish, he said.
Additionally, Collier said two major drug operations in Decatur that law enforcement shut down in recent years involved multinational groups smuggling drugs from Mexico.
"We know that we're beginning to see that sort of presence," he said.
Craven Gibbs, a spokeswoman for the Morgan County Health Department, said high numbers of Spanish-speaking immigrants forced the department to use translators. 'Taxing on the system'
"It's taxing on the system, because it takes a lot more time," she said in a February 2008 interview.
Gibbs said the publicly funded department is legally required to provide medical services to anyone who requests them, regardless of their legal status.
Credit: The Decatur Daily, Ala.