Atlanta population: 10-county area adds nearly 80,000 since 2016


Noticing a busier commute? Maybe a few more customers ahead of you to get that morning cup of coffee?

It’s probably not your imagination. The Atlanta Regional Commission said Thursday the 10-county Atlanta area added more than 78,000 people from April 2016 to April this year amid a surge in new jobs.

Some 4.48 million people now call the core counties of the Atlanta region their home, the ARC said. The highest rates of growth occurred in suburban counties, including Cherokee and Henry, and the city of Atlanta saw its growth accelerate as well.

The overall metro growth rate of 1.8 percent was the fastest rate the region has seen since the Great Recession. Since 2010, the 10-county area has grown by 8.3 percent or more than 372,000 residents.

“Metro Atlanta offers a world-class quality of life along with one of the nation’s best business environments,” Kerry Armstrong, ARC board chairman, said in a release accompanying the report. “It’s a winning combination that has fueled tremendous growth in recent years.”

The nearly 80,000 people added in the 12 months ending in April is reminiscent of the annual rates of growth of the 1990s and 2000s, the ARC said, after a decade that has seen a slower pace of population gains due in large part to the economic downturn.

Atlanta's Population Growth

Population numbers from The Atlanta Regional Commission. By Stephanie Lamm/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Fulton saw the largest net increase in residents since 2016 with 17,100, followed by Gwinnett (16,900) and Cobb (12,800).

Cherokee (3 percent), Henry (2.4 percent) and the city of Atlanta (2.3 percent) had the highest rates of population growth.

Since 2010, Cherokee has grown by 15 percent, while Henry has seen a 12 percent increase in residents.

“We’ve got a lot of good things going here,” said L.B. “Buzz” Ahrens Jr., chairman of the Cherokee County Commission.

Cherokee, he said, has become a magnet for young families, thanks to strong schools, low taxes and quality of life. Several foreign companies, including an Adidas shoe factory and an expansion by automotive parts supplier Inalfa Roof Systems, have helped fuel a job growth.

The 3 percent annual growth rate, Ahrens said, was a bit higher than he would like, but Cherokee is making up for slower growth years in the wake of the recession, and will likely stay within long-term projections of about 2.5 percent annual growth.

Every county and the city of Atlanta added more residents in the 12 months ending in April than their average annual rate of growth since 2010. The city of Atlanta, which added an estimated 9,900 residents in the past year, more than doubled its running average annual growth rate in that time.

The 29-county metro Atlanta region, which the Census lists at nearly 5.8 million in 2016, saw the second-highest rate of job growth in the nation behind only the Dallas-Fort Worth area during the 12 months ended in April.

Mike Carnathan, manager of the ARC’s research and analytics group, said that economic buoyancy played a key role in the region’s population growth.

“The economy is doing great and the population is following,” Carnathan said.

The Atlanta area netted some huge corporate recruitments in the past year. For instance, health care giant Anthem, the parent of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia, announced last October plans to locate 1,800 jobs at a technology hub at Bank of America Plaza.

Industrial conglomerate Honeywell picked Atlanta for a global software center and division headquarters in a move expected to create more than 800 high-paying jobs.

In 2016, the 10-counties in the ARC’s jurisdiction reported 27,100 permits for new residential units, or about 5,000 more than the year prior. The city of Atlanta, far and away the leader in newly permitted units during that time, reported 8,000 last year, of which about 7,000 were for apartments.

Carnathan said one headwind for the Atlanta region could be the issue of housing affordability.

“We are not adding the number of people we added in the late 1990s and 2000s,” he said. “Affordable housing is an issue and is probably tamping down population growth.”

A number of cities, including Atlanta, have started to discuss the issue, but rapid development and rapidly growing housing prices are taking a toll. Wages overall have not kept pace with housing costs, putting pressure on many households.

A recent ARC survey found nearly half of metro Atlanta residents could not immediately pay an unexpected $400 bill right away from the cash in their bank accounts.

Carnathan said he expects to see growth and development accelerate, particularly on the southside of the metro area, as a number of large jobs announcements have come to communities south of Atlanta.

This week, British online fashion merchant ASOS announced plans for a new distribution hub in Union City, where it plans to one-day employ 1,600. In Henry, the developer of the Lambert Farms industrial park said it was starting more than 1.5 million square feet expansion of the complex amid high demand for warehouse space.

June Wood, chair of the Henry commission, said job growth also is key in her county, attracting a diverse set of new residents. Businesses have been attracted to the county’s proximity to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and the state’s interstate system.

“You will also see we are still becoming a younger community,” she said.

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