Leaving Oxford better remains mayor’s driving force

Published 7:25 am Wednesday, January 10, 2024

By Robyn Tannehill
Oxford mayor

Happy New Year!

For the past six and a half years, it has been an honor and privilege to serve our community. I hear it from people in every place I visit – Oxford is such a special city.  And I think, “if you only knew!”  We are extremely blessed to call Oxford home.  And, you – the people – are the secret sauce that makes Oxford so unique and special. 

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I can promise you that our community would not experience the success we enjoy if it weren’t for the 500 folks who wake up and put on a shirt with an Oxford logo and get to work making every square inch of our community better every single day. I want to thank and acknowledge our city employees and department leadership.  Their commitment, compassion, pride in their job, problem solving ability and servants’ hearts shows up in everything they do.  

For many, these frontline employees are “the city.” There are many citizens I’ll simply never have the opportunity to meet and to them “the city” is the face they see serving on the frontline.  I tell my employees all the time that Tom Bullion who works in our Building and Grounds Department and waters the plants on the Square daily gets many more questions about restaurant recommendations and directions to Rowan Oak than anyone in the Visit Oxford office!  These folks represent us so well and they have been hard at work in 2023.

I look forward to providing a Year End Review and Plans for 2024 over the coming weeks; 2023 was one of the most successful years our community has ever experienced from economic growth to international recognition to projects accomplished and events hosted. 

You’d be hard pressed to find a community that is better at hosting and celebrating than Oxford. This year Oxford hosted the largest freshman class ever and record enrollment at the University of Mississippi.  

With more students, the most successful Double Decker Arts Festival ever, two large concert days on campus, an 11-win football season, the highly popular holiday event, Holly Jolly Holidays, not to mention the mainstays like mTrade Park, tennis, arts and culture events – Oxford’s economy is as strong as ever and getting stronger.

Oxford, like the rest of the country, still feels some effects from the pandemic.  However, we are fortunate that our local businesses are part of the magic that moves Oxford forward.  To further reiterate the strength of the Oxford economy and Oxford’s post-pandemic progress, we like to compare growth to pre-pandemic times.  

Sales tax diversion, which is the portion of state sales tax diverted into the city’s general fund, is a strong indicator of the strength of our economy.  This sales tax diversion is directly related to the sales our businesses experience in any given month.  A chart reporting the city’s sales tax diversion of the last five years is attached.

As indicated in this chart, our total sales tax diversion from calendar year 2019 was $10.0 million. When compared to calendar year 2023 where the total sales tax diversion was more than $13.7 million, we see an increase of approximately 35 percent.  Other indicators of the strength of our economy are present in our 2 percent Food and Beverage Tax and our 2 percent Hotel/Motel Tax. 

As we analyze these other indicators of the strength and state of our economy, we quickly notice 2 percent Food and Beverage Tax and 2 percent Hotel/Motel Tax have increased 35.3 percent and 72.7 percent, respectively, since 2020.  When combined these tax revenues indicate a strong economy with people spending more money while benefiting all of our businesses and residents.

I say this so often that everyone in City Hall rolls their eyes knowing it is coming, but it rings as true today as it did the first time — when our greatest challenge is a result of tremendous growth, we should not complain.  

Evidence of this growth is hard to quantify. According to one study, Oxford is the second fastest-growing college town in the country, behind Bozeman, Montana.  While the census counts performed in 2020 are the “official” numbers and indicated a population over 26,000, those of us that live and work here witness much higher population. 

Unfortunately, so much of our funding at a state and federal level is determined by this “official” number, and we know from city services provided, water and sewer usage, and traffic numbers that this “official” number is much lower than the actual number that call Oxford home.  

We estimate 60,000 people in Oxford on any given day with the workforce and student populations. On an SEC football weekend, our town often swells to over 200,000 people. Infrastructure to accommodate these large numbers with only 26,000 tax payers remains our greatest challenge, and we constantly search for relief or help on the state and federal levels.

Oxford’s growth is such that it doesn’t seem possible. Even using the “official” census numbers, Oxford has more than doubled in the last 20 years.  From 2011 to 2021, the Lafayette County Economic Development Foundation reported Oxford as the highest growth rate in Mississippi. Population growth has a direct correlation to economic growth, but we consider other indicators as well. 

Oxford has seen large increases in employment growth, ranking it the third highest in the state between 2011-2021 and eighth highest in the state between 2020-2021. Total number of reporting businesses has grown at a rate nearly three times that of the state average.  Let that fact sink in – new business in Oxford is outpacing the state average by 300 percent.

Civilian labor force growth is the highest in the state.  Total retail sales in Oxford and Lafayette County exceeded $1 billion for the first time in 2016. Now, it appears total retail sales in Oxford and Lafayette County exceeded $2 billion in 2023. (At this time, the final report is not complete).

The median household income for Lafayette County was estimated at $59,748 in July of 2022 by the US Census Bureau.  That is an increase of more than 7 percentwhen compared to the $55,786 as of the 2020 decennial census. This is great news, but there is still work to do.  The 2020 Census reported Lafayette County median household income was 82.84 percent of the national median household income. Our growth has been extremely positive, but even with this growth, the gap has increased.  

Lafayette County’s median household income in July of 2022 was reported to be 80.1 percent of the national average. We remain committed to growing our economy by creating a business-friendly environment and closing this gap.

Although better now than a year ago, supply chain issues continue to be a burden.  That, along with higher and fluctuating interest rates, caused some unrest in our community.  However, Oxford is proud to have new construction of businesses and homes still moving forward; 2023 has been our biggest, most successful year in building in quite some time. 

From Jan. 1, 2023-present we have permitted $217,132,006.61 in construction costs. This number includes all permit types and work classes. However, just in residential and commercial building permits alone, the construction this year was valued at $204,990,564.76.  Compared to 2022, which was the first time we exceeded the 2019 pre-pandemic level, 2023 witnessed a growth in permitted construction cost of nearly $60 million or 36 percent.  It is hard to believe that only three years ago in 2020 this permitted construction cost was only $89,600,332.01. Simply, WOW! That is tremendous growth.

It seems the common denominator over the last 20-plus years is development and growth.  Development on every corner of town.  Development where we thought we would never see development.  Growth of population, growth in opportunities and growth of economy, that can only be described as amazing.  

Everywhere we go in Oxford we see new businesses, new housing, and more people.  How often do we hear this from friends and family coming back to Oxford after being away — “Oxford has grown so much!”  

This continued activity and excitement about Oxford does bring hardships, but these hardships are manageable with dedication of my administration, the city staff, and most importantly, Oxonians who are committed to leaving Oxford better than we found it.  This growth and these hardships, drive our economy and expand opportunities for our citizens. 

My administration is committed to continuing the economic development of Oxford while protecting the “secret sauce” that makes Oxford, OXFORD.