Chattanooga is bigger than ever, according to a new report, thanks to what experts call a "unique and historical turnaround" in the city's population.
Chattanooga is the only middle to large U.S. city to have lost 10 percent of its population over the last three decades, then completely rebounded to exceed its previous peak, according to a report released Thursday by the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies.
"The simple way of saying this is there are more people living in Chattanooga than ever before," David Eichenthal, the Ochs Center's president and CEO, said at a news conference Thursday morning.
The report states the six-county Chattanooga statistical area grew by 8 percent between 2000 and 2007, led by 17.7 percent growth in Sequatchie County and 16.8 percent growth in Catoosa County. Hamilton County's population grew by 7.2 percent, while Walker and Dade counties in Georgia grew 5.7 percent and 6.2 percent, respectively. Marion County grew 1.3 percent.
The city itself topped its previous peak of 169,565 residents with an estimated 169,884 in 2007, according to U.S. Census Bureau data in the report.
"It wasn't that long ago people were wondering if the decline would ever stop," Mr. Eichenthal said. "It's a very different picture as we stand here today."
He explained some of the reasons for the growth, citing a 45 percent jump in the city's Latino population since the 2000 census. He said it's important to note that the city's black population increased by more than 9 percent and the white population grew by nearly 10 percent - the first growth among whites since 1980.
"We are now a growing city in a growing county in the middle of a growing region," Mr. Eichenthal said.
The report suggests most of Chattanooga's growth came from the young and old end of the age spectrum. Between 2000 and 2007, the city's population grew 5.9 percent as a whole, while the 5 years and younger category grew 13.3 percent and the older-than-65 bracket increased by more than 8 percent.
"We've made an effort to promote Hamilton County as a place to retire," Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey said. "Those things may be paying off."
On the opposite end of the spectrum, nearly one-quarter of the county's growth has come from births. Between 2000 and 2006, there have been 5,363 more births than deaths in Hamilton County, the report states.
Hamilton County Health Department officials said the birth rate increased roughly 5 percent from 1996 to 2006, contributing to the growth.
While an increase in births could mean swelling schoolrooms in a few years, Mr. Ramsey said there's not always a direct correlation.
"The American population is very mobile right now," he said. "Because they were in a particular area this year, they may not be there when they start school."
Still, the mayor said, such reports help give the county data to plan around.
"It's taken into consideration as we plan for the future," he said.
Those plans, according to Mr. Eichenthal, are the whole reason the center published the report.
"We hope that this information doesn't just sit on a shelf," he said. "We hope it's used by policymakers."