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MURPHY: This '09 big news list omits Jon and Kate

By now you've been deluged with end-of-2009 lists. From news to movies to books to celebrities to scandals, we like to put a Top 10 tag on just about anything.

My list for top news stories of '09 has a different take. No Jon and Kates. No swine flu. No speaker of the house resignations. No big drug busts, fires, floods, shootings or high-profile court cases. No flash-in-the-pan sensational news stories.

First of all, my top news list is local. And it takes a longer-term approach, listing the stories that I believe really affect you and will for a long time.

So approaching the task with a very Gwinnett-centric view, here are my top five news stories of 2009:

Growth: Growth has been Gwinnett's big news story for the last 50 years, and 2009 was no different. This expanding population has defined Gwinnett for more than half a century. But how we're growing is changing in two ways: The influx is slowing, and we're becoming more diverse.

Today, we're somewhere around 800,000 strong. That's larger than the populations of Wyoming, Vermont, North Dakota and Alaska, and it won't be long before this county will surpass South Dakota. Imagine that: Our county is larger than five states.

And in another decade or so, Gwinnett's population will reach 1 million. At that time, the state of Georgia will have about 11 million people. That means that one of every 11 Georgians will be a Gwinnett resident. That's something to ponder. Taking it to the next level, one out of every 322 people living in the United States will live in Gwinnett.

True, we added fewer folks in 2009. Gwinnett County Public Schools only saw an additional 2,100 students this academic year, compared to the jumps of 5,000 to 7,000 we'd grown accustomed to.

And as we grow, we become more diverse. The 2000 Census placed Gwinnett's white population at 67 percent, blacks at 13 percent, Hispanics at 11 percent, and Asians at about 7 percent. We'll be undergoing a decennial census in 2010, and it will be interesting to see how much more diverse we are. At the last U.S. Census Bureau estimate in 2008, Gwinnett's white population was 50.3 percent. Surely, with our trend toward diversity, the Census will confirm us as a minority-majority county.

Partnership Gwinnett: We can moan about the economy, but this county has fared better than most, and a big chunk of the credit goes to Partnership Gwinnett, the Chamber of Commerce's economic development tool. Since its inception, PG has aided in landing 119 relocations and expansions, including NCR Corporation moving its global headquarters to Duluth and Asbury Automotive Group relocating corporate offices from New York to Duluth.

In all, the 119 success stories brought more than 6,600 high-wage jobs to Gwinnett. Partnership Gwinnett has taken a lot of the sting out of a tough business environment.

Immigration law: Sheriff Butch Conway's effort to bring the 287(g) program to his department goes a long way in helping us properly handle the growth issues discussed above. The 287(g) program gives law enforcement the training and tools to enforce the laws of our land. Some don't like it. They call it profiling. But anything that helps officers fairly and justly carry out their sworn duty to uphold the law is aces in my book.

We've already talked about growth being big news. How we handle that growth goes a long way in shaping our future. Gwinnet's past shows its residents embracing diversity, but we need not welcome those who refuse to live by our laws.

Shack's passing: When you talk about individuals who loomed larger than life, you have to mention Wayne Shackelford. The impact the former county administrator, state transportation chief, father, grandfather, 4-H guru, Chamber exec, etc. had on Georgians and particularly Gwinnettians will be felt for a long time. He was a great guy to have in your corner, and Gwinnett County benefited greatly from being able to call Shack its own. At age 75, he pulled into the fast lane to heaven. He is missed by many.

Gwinnett Braves: The arrival of the Atlanta Braves' Triple-A affiliate team and the opening of the new 10,000-seat stadium added the American pastime to Gwinnett's list of amenities. The inaugural season saw the Braves in the playoffs, but the real winners were the fans that got another big-city benefit in their own yard. Generations to come will enjoy the Braves and the stadium.

J.K. Murphy is the publisher of the Gwinnett Daily Post. E-mail him at jk.murphy@gwinnettdailypost.com.