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Birmingham Business Journal
November 2, 2007

"Shelby among wealthiest - County gets richer as homes, jobs shift south"
by Jimmy DeButts & G. Scott Thomas ACBJ

Shelby County's population explosion, coupled with a booming economy in recent years, has made Birmingham's bedroom community the Southeast's eighth wealthiest suburban county.

Shelby also ranks 71st on the list of the 100 richest suburbs in the nation, according to a demographic analysis by American City Business Journals, the parent company of the Birmingham Business Journal.

Shelby County's population swelled by 24 percent since 2000, which James Dedes, executive director of the Shelby County Economic and Industrial Development Authority, credits to many people migrating south from the older, industrial areas of Jefferson County.

"I believe we are in the early stages of a gradual evolution of Shelby County from a network of bedroom communities to a more independent suburban economy," Dedes said.

"Young, upper-income families are attracted to good schools, large backyards, low crime rates and convenient shopping that are typically found in well-planned suburban areas. Assuming no problems occur in the national economy that would affect the Birmingham region, we will continue to see increases in our population and median income."

In the Southeast, two suburban Nashville counties are the wealthiest, according to ACBJ data.

Atlanta led Southeastern metro areas with five of the nation's wealthiest suburbs. Nashville and Jacksonville, Fla., had two while Raleigh, Charlotte, Memphis and Birmingham had one each.

Shelby County's per capita income was $32,301 and 5.7 percent of its households made more than $200,000 a year.

Although the Southeast was well represented, the Mid-Atlantic region, including New Jersey, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland, dominated the national list with seven of the top 10 and 14 of the top 26 well-off 'burbs.

Dozens of upscale suburbs sprawl across the rolling hills of northern New Jersey, stretching as far as 70 miles from New York City.

All of these havens may consider themselves unique and autonomous, but economist Joseph Seneca views them as a cohesive region. The "wealth belt," he calls it.

The name is appropriate. Almost a million people live in the New York region's three richest counties - Hunterdon, Somerset and Morris - where the income levels are 70 percent above the national average.

"It's an area of high incomes, high housing costs and high quality of life," said Seneca, a Rutgers University professor. "It has become an economic mass of real significance."

Similar "wealth belts" can be found in major metropolitan areas from Washington to San Francisco. The nation's 100 richest suburban counties, taken as a group, are home to 46 million people whose combined income - $1.6 trillion per year - would cause any marketer to salivate.

American City Business Journals created a nine-part formula to determine the relative affluence of 291 suburban counties, seeking the places with the highest incomes, most expensive houses, lowest poverty levels, strongest educational backgrounds and most extensive ownership of stocks, rental properties and vehicles.

Hunterdon County, N.J., holds first place because its wealth is so broadly based. It's among the 10 leaders in five of the study's nine categories and does no worse than 24th place in the others.

Hunterdon's share of people on public assistance or food stamps, 0.8 percent, is the nation's lowest rate.

Second place belongs to Fairfax County, Va., a high-tech hub near Washington. It has a highly educated, well-paid workforce. Six of every 10 Fairfax adults have college degrees, and 15.2 percent of the county's households are in the $200,000-plus income range.

The rest of the top 10 consists of two more counties from New Jersey, two from Maryland and one each from California, Colorado, Connecticut and Virginia.

Jimmy DeButts is a reporter for the Birmingham Business Journal and can be reached at (205) 443-5628 or jdebutts@bizjournals.com. G. Scott Thomas is projects editor at Buffalo Business First, a sister publication, and can be reached at sthomas@bizjournals.com.


 

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