Georgia Chamber report: rural Georgia vital to state’s economic future

Education leaders present findings at the Georgia Chamber of Commerce Rural Prosperity Summit. (Credit: Georgia Chamber of Commerce)

Education leaders present findings at the Georgia Chamber of Commerce Rural Prosperity Summit. (Credit: Georgia Chamber of Commerce)

The Gist

In the last year, 8 in 10 new jobs in Georgia and $20 billion of investments went to communities outside of metro Atlanta, historically the state’s economic engine, according to a new economic report.

Over the next decade, rural Georgia is projected to get more than 780,000 jobs. By 2050, job growth in rural Georgia is forecast to grow 45%, according to the Georgia Chamber Foundation’s Third Quarter Economic Report. The foundation is the research arm of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.

“This signals that the future of Georgia is dependent upon statewide economic growth, and it is vital to maintain strategic economic development initiatives focused on rural prosperity,” the report noted. The quarterly reports provide business and community leaders with statistics and trends that impact the state. This latest report focuses on rural Georgia.

What’s Happening

The Chamber report was released Tuesday during the organization’s Rural Prosperity Summit in Athens, a two-day gathering of the state’s most influential leaders. It also comes the same day Gov. Brian Kemp announced that Georgia retains its No. 1 ranking — for the 10th year — as the top state in the nation to do business

In the past, much of the economic growth in Georgia sprang from metro Atlanta and other big cities. Going forward, that won’t be the case.

Between 2010 and 2020, the Atlanta region had the fastest growth, followed closely by Northeast Georgia — around the Athens-Clarke County area and coastal Georgia, between Augusta and Brunswick. Northern rural counties grew faster than the state’s southern rural counties.

In the last four years, Georgia has experienced record economic growth, 77% of that activity has been in rural Georgia, the report noted, yet the state’s 122 rural counties still face major challenges.

Some 68 Georgia counties, all rural, have lost population. The average rural Georgian’s paycheck is $50,200, nearly $27,000 less than someone living in metro Atlanta. Educational attainment is lower in rural communities than in urban ones. 

Rural Georgia’s future growth will come from newcomers because the population is growing older and birth rates continue to fall. Rural counties in middle and south Georgia will see the greatest population decline. The region still grapples with access to high-speed internet and other technology, the report noted.

Why It Matters

The Chamber’s report cited some actions the state can take to improve life in rural Georgia. Among them:

  • Population. Rural Georgia has more older residents than the rest of the state. Those over 65 years old will account for the fastest growth in rural Georgia in the future, resulting in a need for more aging and health care services. 
  • Education. More than a third of all Georgia students in K-12 public schools are in rural communities. One in 4 children in rural Georgia live in poverty. Since children are the future workforce, they must be exposed to “growing, in-demand careers, especially those with employment options in their communities,” the report noted. They also need resources and programs that prepare them for long-term career success. The final state FY 2024 budget passed earlier this year provides $1.7 million to support a home visit pilot program for moms and babies in rural Georgia.
  • Health care. Almost all counties where at least 30% of the residents are obese or have heart disease are rural. Lack of access to health care is a contributing factor to these and other medical conditions. Preventative care is vital to managing such noncommunicable diseases. Rural Georgia has a major shortage of nurses and other medical professionals. Since 2005, nine rural hospitals have closed in Georgia.
  • Jobs. Many of Georgia’s largest industries thrive in rural areas. 
  • Housing. Rural Georgia saw the smallest increase in housing stock compared to metro Atlanta and suburban areas. “Ensuring housing stock is available is critical to effective retention and recruitment of talent for companies,” the report said. Housing should be a part of any workforce development plan in local communities.
  • Future infrastructure. Nearly 25% of personal vehicle miles traveled in Georgia are on rural roads. Rural areas account for more than half — 54% — of total lane miles on Georgia roads. That’s more than 2,000 lane miles per 100,000 residents and four times as many in any metro area in the state. As a result, rural transportation networks are vital to the entire state.

What’s Next?

State officials are working to address problems in rural Georgia.

In June, Gov. Brian Kemp announced $15 million in state funds for the Capital Projects Fund Grant program. In addition to local and private investments, $30 million is budgeted to provide over 3,500 rural locations with greater access to broadband. These expenditures come in addition to $234 million already invested in 28 rural counties. All told, nearly $1 billion has been spent in Georgia to expand broadband access.

In 2017, the chamber opened the Center for Rural Prosperity in Tifton to promote rural efforts and develop partnerships to improve rural workforce development, health care, infrastructure and education.
Read the Chamber’s latest quarterly report on its website.

  • Rural counties: 122
  • Average median income: $50,200
  • Georgians living in poverty: 14.2%
  • Rural Georgians living in poverty: 18.66%
  • Metro Atlanta poverty rate: 10.47%
  • Average increase in monthly mortgage payments over last two years: $393.52
  • Projected population growth by 2050: 20%
  • Senior population growth rate in 2020: 20%
  • Average Pre-K slots in a metro Atlanta county: 2,924 
  • Average Pre-K slots in a rural county: 236
  • Jobs added in rural Georgia by 2032: 780,000-plus
  • Agribusiness annual contribution to Georgia’s economy: $70 billion
  • Agriculture jobs projected to be added in Georgia by 2030: 8,000-plus
  • Statewide business sales that are generated in rural Georgia: 25%
  • Projected job growth by 2050: 45% 
  • Rural Georgians projected to retire within the next decade: 1.09 million
  • Hospitals in rural Georgia at risk of closing: 28%

Source: Georgia Chamber Foundation, “Rural Georgia,” Q3 Quarterly Economic Report, 2023

Have questions, comments or tips? Contact Tammy Joyner on X @lvjoyner or at [email protected].

Facebook @StateAffairsGA
LinkedIn @StateAffairs

Header image: Education leaders present findings at the Georgia Chamber of Commerce Rural Prosperity Summit. (Credit: Georgia Chamber of Commerce)