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The Atlanta region has drawn millions of newcomers here in recent years with its warm weather (snowstorms notwithstanding), reasonably priced housing, and job opportunities in real estate, banking and the airline industry.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed talked about the economic might of the region during a recent speech before the Atlanta Press Club. One statistic he used to cite the size of metro Atlanta’s economy surprised us, so we decided to do some fact-checking.
The annual gross domestic product of metro Atlanta, the mayor said, is "bigger than 28 states in the union."
Is it really that large?
Mayoral spokesman Carlos Campos said Reed was using U.S. Commerce Department data as the basis for his claim. We looked at the data, and the most recent statistics we found show the mayor’s statement might be conservative.
Gross domestic product, or GDP, is the total market value of all of the goods and services produced within the boundaries of a specific area.
Federal officials define the Atlanta metropolitan area as 28 counties that stretch as far north as Dawson, south to Meriwether, as far west as Haralson and as far east as Walton and Jasper counties. It includes Georgia’s four highest-populated counties: Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett. The Atlanta metropolitan area had nearly 5.3 million residents in 2010, the ninth-highest total in the nation.
In addition to having a large labor force, metro Atlanta has two major transportation hubs that have helped its economy race ahead of other regions. One is Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, which ranks among the world’s busiest airports.
The other is the ports of Savannah and Brunswick, which are considered to be among the fastest-growing ports in terms of the volume of items shipped there. Although the ports are not located in metro Atlanta, Reed and others note they are important to the region’s economy. About 180,000 full-time and part-time jobs in the 28-county Atlanta region can be attributed to the ports, according to a 2012 University of Georgia study.
The region has 11 Fortune 500 companies with Atlanta addresses, according to the Metro Atlanta Chamber. Only New York City and Houston have more Fortune 500 businesses, according to the chamber.
So how large is this region’s economy?
In 2012, the Atlanta region had a GDP of nearly $295 billion, according to the Commerce Department. Reed used that same number in his remarks.
Among metropolitan areas, Atlanta’s GDP is the 10th-highest nationally, which is about where it should be considering it has the ninth-largest population. In order, the metropolitan areas with the largest gross domestic products are New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Washington, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Boston.
In terms of how Atlanta fares in comparison with other states, only 16 states had a higher GDP. In order, those states were California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, North Carolina, Virginia, Massachusetts, Michigan, Washington, Maryland, Indiana and Minnesota.
Metro Atlanta would also beat out the rest of the state. The region makes up about two-thirds of the state’s GDP, the Commerce Department data show. The Atlanta region does have a larger population than the rest of the state.
PolitiFact Georgia looked at other categories of gross domestic product, and the Atlanta region fared as well, if not better, in those areas. For example, in 2012, only 12 states had a higher per capita GDP than metro Atlanta. The per capita gross domestic product for metro Atlanta was $46,970.
University of Georgia economist Jeff Humphreys said he’s not surprised metro Atlanta has a higher GDP than most states.
"Atlanta is a huge metro area," said Humphreys, the director of the university’s Selig Center for Economic Growth. "The population would outrank a lot of states."
Indeed, metro Atlanta has a larger population than 30 other states, U.S. census figures show.
Humphreys said the Atlanta region has a "highly developed economy" through economic resources such as the airport that are "serving people in other states, the country and the world at this point."
To sum up, Reed claimed the Atlanta region had a higher GDP than 28 other states.
Our research showed Atlanta slightly better than that in most categories. We rate the mayor’s statement True.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, speech, Atlanta Press Club, Jan. 31, 2014
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Atlanta moves to 9th largest U.S. metro area," updated March 24, 2010.
Email from Carlos Campos, spokesman, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Feb. 6, 2014
Georgia Ports industry study, April 2012.
Metro Atlanta Chamber report on Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 Headquarters in Atlanta, May 20, 2013.
Telephone interview with Jeff Humphreys, professor, University of Georgia, Feb. 14, 2014.
U.S. Commerce Department gross domestic product regional database.
U.S. Census Bureau, Metropolitan Area population growth between 2000-2010.
U.S. Census Bureau Atlanta metropolitan area definition.
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