Metro Atlanta in 2040: 8 million people, a need to spend billions handling them, ARC says

 The recent surge of new residents – and the expectation of a continued flow – is good for the economy, but a challenge to Atlanta’s ability to cope, said a key researcher for the region’s premier planning group.

Without careful preparation and smart spending, the region will have dull its economic edge, said Mike Carnathan, manager of research and analytics division at the Atlanta Regional Commission, in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“We want a competitive economy,” he said.

But metro Atlanta’s transit systems and community planners face an intensifying density.  

Since 2010, Atlanta has added a half-million new residents, Carnathan said. “And that is not including what we have added in 2017.”

And the region will keep growing, rising in the next three decades to become the sixth-largest metro area in the country, according to projections in a report released recently by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

The region’s population is projected at more than 8.6 million by 2046, the report concludes.


The ARC and other planning groups have ideas about managing that growth – roads, public transit, community shaping. On the drafting board are $85 billion worth of ideas over the next quarter-century or so. With that many people in metro Atlanta, that kind of spending is table stakes, Carnathan said.

“You want to promote world class infrastructure,” he said. “If we want to compete globally, if we want healthy, vibrant communities. We want world-class infrastructure and a skilled, educated workforce.”


An influx of people adds to the economy in ways that produce, and also fill jobs. But it works the other way too – more jobs in a region act as a draw for in-migration.

“It is a kind of virtuous cycle,” Carnathan said.

When people lose their inclination – or ability – to move, it chills economic growth. Economists the past few years have written about the need for a healthy “churn,” the move in and out of jobs.

So the opposite is a burden, he said. “We saw that during the Great Recession when the national economy suffered and mobility suffered. People who had jobs and wanted better jobs couldn’t make that move.”

The Atlanta Regional Commission, begun in 1947, in the agency charged with regional planning and intergovernmental coordination for the ten counties that center on Atlanta. 

The mayors’ report was issued to mark Infrastructure Week, with the mayors arguing that spending on transit and other infrastructure would boost growth and efficiency, adding jobs and increasing business profits where most Americans live and work. 

The ARC issues its own predictions

For example, the group projects metro Atlanta population for the ten-county core at 5.92 million by 2040; up 1.59 million.

Past forecasts have generally been “really good,” Carnathan said, at least in predicting the number of people who would come to the region: However, they have often been wrong about exactly where those people would choose to live.

“Yeah, we want to be right,” Carnathan said. “But the purpose of a forecast is to be ready.” 

Projections, 23 years away:

-- Total metro Atlanta population for the ten-county core: 5.92 million by 2040; that’s 1.59 million more than 2016.

-- Gwinnett will be the region’s largest county in 2040, with a population of 1.35 million. 

-- Fulton will be second-largest county, with 1.26 million residents.

-- Forsyth will grow at the fastest rate, hitting 430,000 people by 2040 – more than doubling from its current size. 

-- The region’s Hispanic population will more than double to 1.75 million.

-- The number of residents aged 65 or more will nearly triple, reaching nearly 1.6 million.

-- Metro Atlanta will add more than 1 million jobs by 2040.  

Source: Atlanta Regional Commission  


AJC Business reporter Michael E. Kanell keeps you updated on the latest news about jobs, housing and consumer issues in metro Atlanta and beyond. You'll find more on, including these stories:

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