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Growth projections unreliable, overstated

    In the movie The Big Short, about the financial collapse on Wall Street, one character defends a bad stock pick by saying he wasn’t wrong, just early.
    The people who estimate population growth could use a similar excuse and use it often – “the growth is coming some time.”
    Except thus far, it doesn’t look like they were early – just wrong, in regards to the long anticipated or feared growth wave heading towards Pickens County.
    Although they did not single out Pickens, at the most recent chamber meeting, the state Chamber of Commerce gave a pep-talk and took input on how the whole state should handle all the new faces and a sizzling economy apparently just around the corner.
    The Georgia Chamber of Commerce program, Georgia 2030, indicated the state will add 1.9 million working age people who will fill over 1 million new jobs between now and 2030, hopefully giving us a 40 percent growth in the economy.
    For total population over the period between now and 2030, Georgia’s largest cities are expected to get considerably larger, especially Atlanta which, if these estimates are correct, will grow by 59 percent from 4.7 million to 7.5 million people.
    This figure is similar to population estimates released in 2010 by the state office of planning and budget calling for a 46 percent hike in state population; going from 10.1 million Georgians to 14.6 million during the two decades between 2010 and 2030.
    Figures for our county seem ridiculously high. The same state report from 2010 projected Pickens’ population to have passed 38,000 in 2015 (we are actually only around 30,000) and hit 55,000 by 2030.
    The king of overblown estimates was presented at a public meeting here in the 1990s, when it was speculated that Pickens would see a population of 65,000 by the early decades of the 2000s. That projection still lives in local lore, primarily because of the response of Mayor John Weaver, who made one of his more famous quips, saying that guesstimate was impossible as “we’d be packed in so thick, you couldn’t stir us with a stick.”
    During the late 1990s and early 2000s, considered the boom era for north Georgia real estate, the state saw population growth rates around 30 percent over the decade. And Pickens and neighboring counties were often listed as among the fastest growing in the nation. The Progress during that time ran a monthly column that did nothing but list new subdivision and commercial permits and it was a lengthy article, until it suddenly went to nothing.
    Looking at current Census figures, Pickens’ population was estimated by the state office of budget and planning to be 29,997 in 2014, up very slightly from 29,458 in 2010. The U.S. Census projected our population as 30,309 in 2015.
    As a comparison, the state’s figures for Gilmer County had them right behind us at 28,306 in 2010 and they grew to 28,829 in 2014.
    While some areas of north Georgia and the metro area have seen growth that is straining infrastructure limits (just look at Highway 575), much of the talk about rapid growth at home is little more than wishful thinking or fear tactics depending on how you view it.
    Consider that historically Pickens County has mostly been a rural area, which had a tremendous growth spurt during the real estate boom but then returned to our normal growth pattern. So, despite what many people would have you believe, in the long view of history, we’ve been a slow growth area which saw a significant spurt during one period. Slow growth is the norm, not the exception, here.
    Talk of growth often leads to fears that we will end up with undesirable industrial growth, or looking like Riverstone Parkway in Cherokee County or with a water park dominating the Talking Rock skyline.
    All possible but not plausible. There is nothing on the horizon to portend a significant change here with population. One state economic official conjectured that Highway 515 here would not see any drastic change any time soon.
    Our bet is the growth will be more of a slowly rising tide, not a tidal wave, which is not a bad thing.

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