Meridian is the county seat of Lauderdale County, Mississippi. It is the sixth largest city in the state and the principal city of the Meridian, Mississippi Micropolitan Statistical Area. Along major highways, the city is 93 mi (150 km) east of Jackson, MS; 154 mi (248 km) west of Birmingham, AL; 202 mi (325 km) northeast of New Orleans, LA; and 231 mi (372 km) southeast of Memphis, TN.
Established in 1860 at the intersection of the Mobile and Ohio Railroad and Southern Railway of Mississippi, Meridian relied heavily on the rails and goods transported on them. Union Station is now also home to several other modes of transportation, including the Meridian Transit System, Greyhound Buses, and Trailways, averaging 242,360 passengers per year. During the American Civil War, much of the city was burned to the ground by General William Tecumseh Sherman in the Battle of Meridian. Rebuilt after the war, the city entered a "Golden Age", becoming the largest city in Mississippi between 1890 and 1930 and a leading center for manufacturing in the South, with 44 trains coming in and out daily. Although its economy slowed with the decline of the railroading industry, the city has diversified, with healthcare, military, and manufacturing employing the most people in 2010.
The population within the city limits, according to 2008 census estimates, is 38,232, but a population of 232,900 in a 45-mile (72 km) radius and 526,500 in a 65-mile (105 km) radius, of which 104,600 and 234,200 people respectively are in the labor force, feed the economy of the city. The area is served by two military facilities, Naval Air Station Meridian and Key Field, which provide over 4,000 jobs to the surrounding area. NAS Meridian is home to the Regional Counter-Drug Training Academy (RCTA) and the first local Department of Homeland Security in the state. Key Field is named after Fred and Al Key, who set a world endurance flight record in 1935. The field is now home to the 186th Air Refueling Wing of the Air National Guard and a support facility for the 185th Aviation Brigade of the Army National Guard. Rush Foundation Hospital is the largest non-military employer in the region, employing 2,610 people.