North Georgia a magnet

The population of Murray County is expected to triple and Catoosa and Gordon counties will more than double is size in the next 40 years, according to new projections.

Overall, the Governor's Office of Planning and Budget expects the population of the 10-county area of Northwest Georgia to add about 495,000 people by 2050. The growth would push the region's current population of 521,000 to more than 1 million.

Dr. Douglas Bachtel, a professor of housing and consumer economics at the University of Georgia, said the area's scenic beauty, climate and proximity to both metro Atlanta and Chattanooga -- coupled with jobs and affordable housing -- will draw people to the area.

"You've got all of those factors drawing to North Georgia like a magnet," Dr. Bachtel said.

As a whole, the state is expected to add 4 million people in the next 20 years, going from 10 million residents to 14.7 million, according to the figures.

Governor's spokesman Bert Brantley said the planning office came up with numbers based on births, deaths and migration trends. The numbers then were adjusted for plans already in place and "monumental events" such as Volkswagen and Kia auto assembly plants coming into the region.

The office will use the numbers in forecasting water supply and capacity, transportation needs and other needs, he said.

"Good decisions are made on good information," said Mr. Brantley, who added that he welcomed additional comments or adjustments from local officials.

The office published a report in March with projections through 2030, and the Coosa-North Georgia Water Planning Council discussed the 2050 projections earlier this month.

Dr. Bachtel said most of the models he's seen expect retirees to flock to the area, including Murray County and next-door neighbor Gilmer County, which is expected to grow from 30,000 residents to 89,000 over the 40-year span.

But he acknowledged that forecasts are not perfect.

"It's pretty impossible to predict the future," he said, mentioning unexpected events such as the current recession. "You can't stick that kind of thing into an equation."

Walker County sole commissioner Bebe Heiskell said she believes Walker County's growth has been underprojected and Catoosa's has been overestimated. Both counties are listed at about 66,000 people now, but Catoosa is expected to have nearly twice as many residents as Walker in 2050 with 164,000 compared to 89,000.

"I don't think that's possible," Ms. Heiskell said. "It's just not logical what they've projected."

But officials say the forecast provides a good baseline for future planning.

"If it does grow that much, my main concern is the sewer and the roads," said Catoosa County Commission Chairman Keith Greene, whose county is expected to add 98,000 residents in 40 years. "We're not in shape to address that type growth right now. We've got some work to do."

Whitfield County Commission Chairman Mike Babb said the growth would amplify any issues counties already are dealing with, and the time to make the changes is now.

"It's a lot easier to meet the problems head on and address them early than it is to go back after the fact when you've got 180,000 people," he said.

Between now and 2050, Whitfield is expected to grow by 92 percent, from about 97,000 residents to 186,000.

Mr. Babb said he's not surprised to see the projections.

"We're in the Southeast, which is growing; we're in Georgia, which has been growing, and we're between Atlanta and Chattanooga," he said.


* 210,924 -- Expected growth in 10-county region from 2010 to 2030

* 284,053 -- Expected growth in 10-county region from 2030 to 2050

* 494,977 -- Total expected growth for 10-county region from 2010 to 2050

* 4,618,206 -- Expected growth for Georgia from 2010 to 2030

Source: Georgia Governor's Office of Planning and Budget

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