Through a combination of moderate climate, lower building-supply costs and low rates of state and local taxes, the cost of living comfortably is dramatically lower in the South than in the North.
PHOTO: WILLIAM WALDRON
Southern Alabama facts and figures show why this is the one sun belt state where real estate is still affordable and the land is untouched by commercial developers.
Southern Alabama Facts and Figures
Northerners in the Deep South are often called snowbirds. It doesn't seem to matter if we're just here to escape the bedeviling winters of our native homes or if we've actually come to stay. (There was, of course, a time when we were given far less complimentary nicknames, but — for most of my neighbors — the edge of that old sword has long since been dulled and retired to a scabbard of antiquity.)
I've lived in Escambia County for more than 10 years now, and more settlers from the Far North seem to be arriving each day. We like it here — and "here" is not one of the Southern urban centers. Cities are cities. We've chosen small town U.S.A. with a rural Southern accent.
Oh, sure, you can expect to experience a degree of culture shock when you first arrive. It isn't describable in positive or negative terms; it's just different. But for those of us who settle in, this is home now. And it's a warm hearth.
I'm from a woodsy setting in the upper Great Lakes region, so adapting to a small town has been easier for me than it might be for someone from a megalopolis. I first came South during my stint in the military and fell in love with the region. Later, as a freshly graduated archeologist and museum curator, I sought to return here to work in an environment that is pleasant year-round and to live in this most cordial and affordable region.
My first impressions have lost some of their shine, like an old penny with a brown patina, but there are some attitudes that can be clearly distinguished as "Northernisms" or as "Southernisms." Please remember, however, that these are more or less broad generalities and aren't meant to apply universally to every particular circumstance or locality.
In terms of working conditions, things here are far more serene than the "dog-eat-dog," frantically paced severity typical of Northern business competition. That's not to say that interpersonal politics don't count. In fact, person-to-person relationships often mean far more than anything else. Loyalty between people here is fierce, and—in business as in society—friends stick by one another. This may not make for the greatest efficiency on earth, but it makes the next day at work a lot nicer to look forward to.
Rather than being chained to a specialty within the working environment, people are generally encouraged to expand their abilities. There's an interesting (and very logical) philosophy at work here: People tend to do better if they are happy and if they like what they're doing, and the more an employee can learn to do while working within a given sphere, the more value he or she will have to the business and to working companions. There tends to be, therefore, far more flexibility than a mere job description might imply. The bottom line is
that, for the most part, the fear that the guy next to you is out to get your job is all but nonexistent; cordiality and relaxed amiability dominate over the antagonistic-threat behavior patterns so typical elsewhere.
Through a combination of moderate climate, lower building-supply costs and low rates of state and local taxes, the cost of living comfortably is dramatically lower in the South than in the North. Salaries are often lower as well, but—generally speaking—a middle-income family can live better with more money left over for recreation than nearly anywhere else in the country. And if you seek the quiet country life, good land can be had for a mere fraction of its equivalent elsewhere.
In small towns the privacy and anonymity of urban life are, of course, sacrificed, but the warmth and friendship of neighbors who care about you more than compensate for that. If you're in any sort of trouble, you know that you're never far from someone who will be more than happy to help. Even the police here are, in the truest sense, public servants. If your car door is locked, they'll be there in five minutes to help you open it (although most of us never have to bother with locking our cars anyway; theft of that sort is nearly unheard of). And if there's a real emergency, call 911 and count to 60. Help will be there, and what a blessing that can be!
But waistline watchers, beware! Southern cooking is hazardous to your diet! There's nothing anywhere that can compete with a good home-style Southern meal. Nor does anything else known to culinary science find ways in which to squeeze more calories per gram. Once you get hooked, you're doomed! [Editor's Note: If you'd like to experience some real Southern cooking, turn to page 68 of this issue. ]
Southern politics are, of course, notorious. A Northerner will, perhaps, reel at the array of weaponry unleashed by a smattering of opposing political candidates during an election year. Never did the Three Stooges stage such a pie-throwing, nose-pinching, eye-poking, mud-slinging free-for-all as sometimes occurs in Southern political contests. The best advice is to sit back and enjoy the show. It's better than the Saturday night fights, roller derby and mud wrestling combined!
Remember, too, you'll be in the Bible Belt. We snowbirds are accustomed to more or less quiet, subdued religious practices. Here, instead of asking, "Where are you from?" or "What do you do for a living?," a person often first inquires, "What church do you attend?" or "Have you been saved?" There's nothing wrong with that, of course, but I just wasn't used to having strangers so very concerned about the ultimate destination of my immortal soul. Just remember that churches are the true center of most social activity and interpersonal fellowship in the South's smaller communities, and their influence as a collective force is significant. It's a gesture of friendship (as well as policy) to try to recruit your attendance and ultimate membership. Take no offense.
In a way, living in the rural South is like stepping into the past. Traditional values are maintained, and words like honor and trust still have meaning. Overall, I highly recommend it as a place to live, work and raise a family. According to Alabama facts and figures South Alabama is particularly ideal because of its proximity to large (but not too large) metropolitan centers and conveniences, the friendliness of the people and the quality of life available within a broad spectrum of professions and occupations.
If I had one thing above all others to say as a compliment to this region, it would be this: Here, each person has a value beyond statistical or numerical description. We matter to each other. And that's a truly nice feeling.
John Powell is a professor of history and archeology at Jefferson Davis State Junior College in Brewton, Alabama.
Related Article: A New Southern Cook's Twist on Old Southern Food Recipes
Southern Alabama Statistics
E. BAY MINETTE
F. MOBILE BAY
L. ORANGE BEACH
M. GULF SHORES
N. BON SECOUR
Alabama: 50,767 sq. mi.
Baldwin: 1,590 sq, mi .Escambia: 951 sq. mi.
Alabama: 4,099,400 (est. 1987).
Baldwin: 92,900 (est. 1987).
Alabama: 76.7 per sq. mi.
Baldwin: 58.4 per sq. mi.
Escambia: 40 per sq. mi.
Alabama: 1. paper; 2. chemicals.
Baldwin: 1. agriculture; 2. tourism.
Escambia: 1. manufacturing; 2. agriculture.
Per Capita Income
Alabama: Taxes: 4% sales; 1.5% - 5% state income; 5% corp. income.
Baldwin: Taxes: 1% county; sales in some municipalities; property, 26 1/2 mills per $1,000 of assessed value.
Escambia: Taxes: property, 18.5 mills on 20% of assessed value.
Baldwin: Median house value, $54,570; median rental, $390.
Escambia: Median house value, $25,500; median rental, $300.
Alabama: Avg. precipitation, 58 inches; growing season, 236 days; avg. temperature, 65 degrees Fahrenheit; normal daily July high and low, 92 degrees Fahrenheit
and 73 degrees Fahrenheit; normal daily January high and low, 62 degrees Fahrenheit and 44 degrees Fahrenheit.
Baldwin: Avg. precipitation, 57.12 inches; growing season, 298 days; normal daily July high and low, 99 degrees Fahrenheit and 77 degrees Fahrenheit; normal January high and low, 73 degrees Fahrenheit and 17degrees Fahrenheit.
Escambia: Avg. precipitation, 56 inches; growing season, 236 days; avg. temperature, 67.30 degrees Fahrenheit; normal daily July high and low, 90 degrees Fahrenheit and 73 degrees Fahrenheit; normal daily January high and low, 60 degrees Fahrenheit and 42 degrees Fahrenheit.
Alabama: 28 state technical colleges, 29 four-year institutions, 27 junior colleges.
Baldwin: 32 public elementary, middle & high schools; 2 vocational schools; 1 junior college; 1 university; teacher ratios (high school), 20:1.
Escambia: 15 elementary, middle and high schools, 2 private schools,1 city school, 2 vocational centers, 1 state technical college;teacher ratios, 19:1.