Southern quality of life touted

Tuesday, September 26th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

but growth a problem, region's governors told

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Southerners are pleased with the quality of life in their region, but one in three believes the South has been losing its uniqueness because of hot growth, according to a survey released Monday.

Forty-two percent of respondents to the survey, released at the 66nd annual Southern Governors Association meeting this week in Little Rock, said growth was occurring too quickly in the South.

Yet 62 percent of those who took the survey said that they believe more high-tech businesses must locate in the region if the South is to retain its economic strength.

One-third of those surveyed believed the South had not kept pace with other regions in developing that part of its economy. Those most likely to believe the South was trailing other regions included Democrats, city residents, African-Americans, respondents with household incomes under $30,000 and residents of Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama.

"It's crucial we grow as a region," Mississippi Gov. Ronnie Musgrove said. "It comes a time when we have to cross the global boundaries, but that has to be tempered with dealing with rural areas as well as the urban areas."

The survey was compiled jointly by the Republican research firm Dresner Wickers & Associates of New York and the Democratic research firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin & Associates of Berkeley, Calif.

The poll conducted Aug. 21-25 questioned 814 randomly selected adult residents of the 15 states represented by the SGA. The survey, commissioned by the SGA, had a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points.

Southerners in cities and suburban areas were particularly likely to think growth was taking place more quickly than it should. The survey also showed that whites were far more likely than blacks to think that growth in their areas was excessive.

The theme of this SGA meeting is "From Fiber Optics to Flyfishing."

The nine governors attending have trumpeted a common goal: bringing more technology jobs to the South to compete globally.

"We have to continue to bring technology to the region and wire our schools to the Internet," said Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who is SGA chairman and suggested the poll. "I want to find a way for Arkansas to be on the cutting edge of technology without sacrificing the quality of life we've enjoyed in the South."

The governors cited Savannah, Ga., and Austin for successfully blending high-tech jobs with a sense of community to create vibrant places to live.

Quality of life is a key component of Southerners' happiness, the survey showed. Forty-eight percent of those surveyed said the quality of life was better in the South than elsewhere in the county. Thirty-five percent said the quality of life was about the same and 8 percent said it was worse in the South.

The survey also found that Southerners believed a sense of family, community, church and environment play a crucial role in their day-to-day existence.

"People in the South are comfortable with who they are," Mr. Huckabee said. "They are thrilled at who they are and where they are. And if other people knew about the life down here, we'd be the envy of the world."

Seventy percent of those polled said a friendly, close-knit community was a major aspect of Southern life.

"The South is extremely high in this area," pollster Paul Maslin said.

"You won't see communities and church playing a big role in a place, say, like Berkeley, California. There are some unique qualities to the South, and these two are the most important to the people who live here."

Texas Gov. George W. Bush was campaigning for president in California and did not attend the governors conference.

Suzi Parker is a free-lance writer based in Little Rock.