A first look at county-level GDP (with new maps and graphics)
First, a brief announcement: Trouble in God’s Country has a new toy. I’ve known for a while that I needed some way beyond mere words to communicate all the data I’ve piled up, and recently I began looking around out here on the internet at various mapping programs. Most of them gave me a headache.
But eventually I found my way to a web-based program called Tableau Public, and then got kickstarted in the use of the program with the help of a couple of smart young Tableau pros. Apparently old dogs can learn new tricks.
I am, however, very much a Tableau newbie and am still figuring out how to do various things with the software. In the post that follows, for instance, I would have liked to have been able to embed one of my new live interactive maps or charts, but I haven’t quite been able to break the code on that yet. Instead, I’ve had to settle for using this static map and including a link, in the body of the post below, that will take you to a little interactive material at Tableau Public’s website.
With that as preface, herewith some further notes on the widening economic divide between Metro Atlanta and the rest of Georgia:
The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), a unit of the Commerce Department, last December published (to virtually no fanfare, as nearly as I can determine) the very first county-level gross domestic product (GDP) figures ever produced. BEA billed the new data as a prototype, but still, you’d have thought it would have been a bigger deal.
A dive into the Georgia data suggests a couple of things. First, it basically confirms that nearly two-thirds of the state’s economic muscle is concentrated in TIGC’s 12-county Metro Atlanta region. The most recent Internal Revenue Service (IRS) data available, for the 2016 tax year, puts Metro Atlanta’s share of the state’s federal taxes at 65.8 percent. The new BEA data puts Metro Atlanta’s share of 2015 GDP at 63.8 percent – but rising fast.
The real news here is, indeed, the growth rate. BEA’s new prototype includes data for the years 2012 through 2015. Over that period, Georgia’s overall GDP expanded from $444.1 billion to $513.1 billion – an increase of just under $69 billion, or 15.53 percent.
But $50 billion of that growth – 72.5 percent – took place in Metro Atlanta. As a result, Metro Atlanta’s share of GDP expanded 1.4 percentage points in just four years. In my experience, these kinds of numbers evolve at a more glacial pace – usually hundredths of a point per year rather than tenths. All four other regions lost a little share of GDP, as this table shows.
A few other nuggets:
- Twenty-one counties saw their GDP shrink between 2012 and 2015.
Tiny Baker County in southwest Georgia led this race to the bottom; its GDP cratered 29.7 percent, dropping from $97.2 million in 2012 to $68.4 million in 2015. Not far behind was neighboring Calhoun County, where the GDP fell 17.8 percent during the same period – from $113.2 million to $93.1 million. (You can find an interactive map showing the percentage change in GDP for each county between 2012 and 2015 here: https://tabsoft.co/303CaY0).
- At the other end of the spectrum, it’s worth noting that four small South Georgia counties led the state in percentage growth over that same period – Telfair County (71.4%), Lanier County (47.9%), Stewart County (47.9%), and Wheeler County (42.4%). While that growth is obviously impressive and encouraging for those counties, their growth combined contributed less $300 million in new GDP to the state’s economy. By comparison, exurban Dawson County, north of Metro Atlanta, grew by more than double that amount.
- In December 2016, I published a TIGC post comparing all 56 counties of interior South Georgia to Gwinnett County alone and making the point that Gwinnett County outperformed South Georgia in any metric you could find – economic, educational, public health, etc. The same is true with GDP. Gwinnett County’s 2015 GDP was $43.5 billion to South Georgia’s $34.3 billion. In fact, the same can be said of Cobb County, DeKalb County and, of course, Fulton County. Fulton’s 2015 GDP of $157.4 billion is, in fact, larger than the combined GDP’s of my Middle, South and Coastal Georgia regions – 106 counties altogether.
- The BEA report breaks the GDP data into three components – “private goods-producing industries,” “private services-providing industries,” and “government and government enterprises.” One mild surprise (at least to me) was how little the government sector contributed to Metro Atlanta’s GDP and how large a part it was of the other regions’ economies. Despite the fact that the 12-county Metro Atlanta region is home to probably a hundred local governments, Georgia state government, and the regional offices of numerous federal agencies, the government sector made up only eight percent of Metro Atlanta’s $327.3 billion GDP in 2015. In contrast, it makes up 24.3 percent of the much smaller GDP in both Middle Georgia and Coastal Georgia, no doubt because of the military bases strung across the belly of the state and along the coast, plus the ports at Savannah and Brunswick. South Georgia’s government share of GDP in 2015 was 20.5 percent; North Georgia’s, 13.2 percent.
This last bullet should tell you why local, state and national politicians used to go a little crazy every time there was new round of military base closings under the old Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process, and why Congress basically killed it several years ago (try to imagine Middle Georgia without Robins Air Force Base). It also underscores an observation that came into focus early in my TIGC research: communal investments are critical to building a local economy. I have yet to find a prosperous Georgia community that doesn’t have some sort of important public institution.