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New county-level GDP data suggests rural Georgia has, for a change, improved relative to Metro Atlanta

For the first time in years, rural Georgia in 2019 actually gained a little ground on Metro Atlanta in terms of economic output, according to new data released Thursday by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA).

The new county-level gross domestic product (GDP) data shows that, from 2018 to 2019, TIGC’s 56 South Georgia counties and 43 Middle Georgia counties grew their GDPs by 3.8 percent and 2.3 percent, respectively, while the 12-county Metro Atlanta region and North Georgia’s 41 counties grew by only 1.5 percent and .8 percent, respectively.

As TIGC reported a year ago, fully three-fourths of Georgia’s GDP is produced in Metro Atlanta and North Georgia, but the 106 mostly rural counties from Macon south whittled away slightly at that difference in 2019. In 2018, 75.4 percent of the state’s $538.8 billion economy was generated in Metro Atlanta and North Georgia. In 2019, the Metro Atlanta-North Georgia share of the 2019 $547.8 billion GDP was down two-tenths of a point, to 75.2 percent.

Put another way, 63.7 percent of the $8.67 billion in 2019 growth took place in Metro Atlanta and North Georgia versus 36.3 percent in the combined Middle Georgia, South Georgia and Coastal Georgia regions.

Moreover, the number of counties that saw their GDPs decline dropped from 31 in 2018 to 22 in 2019, and most were scattered loosely across the state, in ones and two — as this map suggests.

That said, it remains to be seen whether this new GDP represents a turning point or a mere pause in a long-term trend, but it marks the first time in about a decade — since the Great Recession — that the gap between Metro Atlanta and the rest of the state has not widened. Metro Atlanta was initially hit harder by that economic downturn, but it recovered faster and, until 2019, had continued to grow its share of the state’s economic output.

These latest results appear to owe to several factors, including:

Relatively anemic growth in the 12-county Metro Atlanta region. Two Metro Atlanta counties suffered actual declines in their GDP. DeKalb saw its near-$38 billion economy slip one-tenth of a percentage point while Clayton, with more than $17 billion in GDP, dropped 1.5 percent. Even Gwinnett County, which is accustomed to robust growth, grew its $44 billion economy by less than one percent. The best performers in Metro Atlanta were suburban counties — Henry County, on the southside, with 6.7 percent in growth, and Cherokee County, to the north, with a 4.6 percent growth rate.

What may be a sudden downturn in a previously vibrant area of northeast Georgia. In particular, seven contiguous counties in northeast Georgia (see map at right) that had been posting relatively impressive year-over-year growth all saw their numbers decline in 2019. Included in this group is Oglethorpe County, whose 10.3 percent decline — from $317.5 million to $284.7 million was the worst in the state. These seven counties all had among the lowest growth rates in the state.

A resurgence in southwest Georgia. If typically vibrant counties in northeast Georgia suffered an unexpected decline in 2019, 10 counties in usually beleaguered deep southwest Georgia enjoyed a major uptick. Baker County, which had been losing population and GDP for several years, posted the biggest one-year gain in the state: 21.9 percent. That grew Baker County’s GDP from $72.3 million to $88.1 million in a single year. But it was only one of 10 contiguous deep southwest Georgia counties that posted double-digit increases (see map at left). Many of them were, to be sure, bouncing back from declines in previous years, but the appearance of a regional trend would seem to be significant.

Copyright (c) Trouble in God’s Country 2020

One Comment Post a comment
  1. Dave Bearse #

    The 22% change in Baker County is so large as well as the general SW GA increase that it’s cause or causes are likely specific rather than generic. A few new significant industries? Hurricane Michael having hammered the area in 2018 making that an especially bad year? Timber harvesting rebound, or the hurricane increasing timber harvesting? The green across Georgia more or less corresponds to Michael’s location and intensity.

    January 1, 2021

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