New census data shows how Georgia changed from 2020 to 2021

ATLANTA – Georgia’s population increased between July 2020 and July 2021, according to annual data from the Census Bureau. The state’s 2021 population was roughly 10.8 million, an increase of almost 74,000 residents, or about 0.7%, over 2020. 

New population estimates out today include information on age, race, and ethnicity in American counties and cities for the period up to July 2021.

Like the rest of the country, Georgia is aging ever-so-slightly, Kristie Wilder, demographer in the Census Bureau’s population division, said. The state’s median age rose from 37.3 in 2020 to 37.5 in 2021.

The fastest growing age group in Georgia was the 65 and older population, she added. That population increased by 3.2% over the one-year period from 2020 to 2021.

Cities like Atlanta, Macon, and Savannah mirror the state trend, Wilder said. Each city’s median age ticked up slightly and the 65 and older age group increased the most of any age group.

“It’s in line with national trends over the last year. Every state got a little older, except for Maine,” said Wilder. “The nation as a whole is aging slightly.”

The year-to-year estimates of key American population data take into account births, deaths, and net migration, Wilder said.

Georgians may not be surprised that Atlanta picked up almost 43,000 residents between July 2020 and July 2021.     

Smaller towns like Gainesville, Hinesville, Warner Robins, Savannah, and the Athens metropolitan areas all had populations that increased by 1% or more in that period.

Gainesville’s population rose to around 207,000 in 2021, up over around 204,000 just the year before. That’s a net increase of 3,780 residents, or 1.9%

Savannah’s population also increased by almost 5,000 residents.

Albany and Columbus both decreased in population size. Albany’s population decreased by 644 and Columbus’s 1,605 people between 2020 and 2021.

The Jefferson metro population – which for the Census is the same as Jackson County – increased by about 3,500 residents over the past year, or a whopping 4.7% growth. Jefferson’s population now tops 80,000.

The area is seeing growth in industrial real estate and ecommerce-related warehouses, John Scott, vice president and director of economic development for the Jackson County chamber of commerce, said. He pointed to the SK battery plant which manufactures lithium-ion batteries for automobiles.

The uptick in population is noticeable in the area, Scott said. Families have been drawn to the area from cities like Atlanta or even New York because of quality schools and jobs.

“We keep having to build schools,” Scott said. He also pointed to an increase in single-family home growth as evidence of young families moving to the area.

Scott’s observations about an influx of young families to the Jefferson area seem to be reflected in the census data. 

In Jefferson, it was the 25-to-64 age group that saw the largest increase, Wilder said, which is different from the Georgia-wide trend of the largest increases in the 65-and-over set.

Among other small cities, Statesboro, St. Mary’s, Cornelia, and Cedartown all picked up more than a one percent population increase.

Americus and Bainbridge each lost around 300 residents during the period from July 2020 to July 2021, a one percent decrease for both cities.

The latest data also shows that the nation is increasingly diverse, and the Georgia data on race and ethnicity reflects that, said Wilder.

“If you’re a local business owner and you want to better understand your community, understand the local demographic, it would be useful in that,” Wilder said.

“Everyday citizens… will find the estimates useful when trying to better understand the demographic makeup of a particular geography, whether it’s their county, whether it’s their state,” Wilder said.  

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Kemp allies go after Abrams as anti-police

SMYRNA – Allies of Republican Gov. Brian Kemp attacked Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams Wednesday as supporting the “defund the police” movement that gained traction two years ago following the murder of a Black man by a Minneapolis police officer.

“The Georgia Constitution says it is the paramount duty of government to protect persons and property,” GOP Attorney General Chris Carr said during a news conference at Kemp’s campaign headquarters in Smyrna.

“Yet, Stacey Abrams and the Democrats are more interested in protecting violent criminals than in protecting vulnerable communities.”

Wednesday’s news conference followed a TV ad the Kemp campaign launched last week accusing Abrams of supporting the defund the police movement. The ad showed a clip from an interview with CNN in which Abrams was asked whether she supported defunding and answered, “We have to reallocate resources – so, yes.”

Two of the more than 100 Georgia sheriffs who have endorsed Kemp for reelection in November and appeared at Wednesday’s news conference said the defund the police movement has hurt morale within law enforcement ranks.

“This makes it harder and harder to attract people to the jobs we need to fill,” Jackson County Sheriff Janis Mangum said.

The Abrams campaign responded to the Republican attacks by pointing to her recent release of a criminal justice plan that calls for giving local law enforcement officers a pay raise.

“Stacey Abrams does not support defunding the police and is a longtime supporter of investing in law enforcement, building community trust, and fostering law enforcement accountability,” Abrams campaign spokesman Alex Floyd said.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Georgia Power to recycle coal ash from Plant Bowen

Plant Bowen (Photo credit: Georgia Power)

ATLANTA – Georgia Power announced plans Wednesday to recycle more than 9 million tons of coal ash stored at Plant Bowen at a pace of about 600,000 tons per year.

The largest beneficial use project for coal ash in the nation will excavate ash from the plant near Cartersville and convert it into concrete for constructing roads, bridges and buildings across Georgia and the Southeast.

“Finding and securing these opportunities to beneficially use coal ash will not only reduce and save space in landfills,” said Aaron Mitchell, Georgia Power’s vice president of environmental affairs. “[It] will also serve as a financial tool to help offset the cost of ash pond closures for our customers.”

Georgia Power is spending $9 billion on a multi-year plan to close all 29 of its ash ponds at 11 coal-burning power plants across the state. While ash is be excavated and removed from 19 of the ponds, the other 10 are scheduled to be closed in place.

Coal ash contains contaminants including mercury, cadmium and arsenic that can pollute groundwater and drinking water as well as air.

The future of Plant Bowen is uncertain. Two of the plant’s four coal-burning units were due to be retired by 2028 under a proposal Georgia Power submitted to the state Public Service Commission (PSC) last January.

But an agreement the Atlanta-based utility reached with the PSC’s Public Interest Advocacy Staff this month would leave that decision up to the commission.

The PSC will vote next month on the agreement as part of Georgia Power’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), an update the utility provides every three years on the mix of energy sources it will rely upon for the next 20 years to meet the needs of its customers.

The decision on whether to close the two units at Plant Bowen by 2028 or wait until a future date likely won’t affect the viability of the beneficial reuse project, said Bobby Baker, an energy lawyer representing Atlanta-based sustainability nonprofit Southface Institute in the IRP case.

“There’s sufficient coal ash on site right now to provide adequate supply for several years for their program,” he said.

“The coal ash at Bowen can be reused regardless of whether or not the power plant itself retires,” added Charline Whyte, senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign in Georgia.

“It would be a huge mistake to view the plant as a coal ash factory when the power it produces is costing customers millions in excess costs and still pollutes air and water.”

Utah-based Eco Materials Technologies, the nation’s leading producer of sustainable cement alternatives, will manage the project at Plant Bowen for Georgia Power.

“As the largest partnership of its kind in the U.S., this project will not only use material from landfills and ash ponds, but also keep millions of tons of [carbon dioxide] from going into the atmosphere,” said Grant Quasha, Eco Materials Technologies’ CEO.

“The harvested material will be used in concrete to make stronger and longer-lasting bridges and roads and serve as a model for helping forward-thinking utilities like Georgia Power and [parent] Southern Company close landfills and ash ponds while building a greener and more sustainable planet.”

The installation of infrastructure necessary for the work at Plant Bowen will begin immediately, with ash removal expected to begin by 2024.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

More broadband connectivity coming to rural Georgia

ATLANTA – Ocmulgee Electric Membership Corp. (EMC) announced plans Tuesday to launch a fiber-optic network that will provide high-speed internet service to customers in five Middle Georgia counties.

The EMC, headquartered in Eastman, will partner with Kansas City-based Conexon Connect to deploy broadband across 2,100 miles to up to 8,000 customers in Laurens, Dodge, Bleckley, Pulaski and Telfair counties.

The project is being funded through a $19 million federal pandemic relief grant, with the ultimate goal of bringing broadband to all of Ocmulgee EMC’s customers.

“Ocmulgee EMC members deserve access to high-speed internet.,” said W. H. Peacock, Ocmulgee EMC’s general manager. “Our cooperative is pleased to partner with Conexon Connect to make it possible for our members to have broadband at last.”

Conexon launched its first broadband project in Georgia more than a year ago.

“With the addition of the Ocmulgee EMC fiber network, Conexon will be building 200 miles a week in the state, making service available to previously unserved rural Georgia at a pace of 1,000 to 2,000 homes a week,” said Jonathan Chambers, a partner with Conexon.

“I know there are others building in Georgia, but these networks are owned by the people we serve. … I expect the Ocmulgee EMC network, like the other EMC projects, will become a model for the rest of the state and the nation.”

The new project will break ground in September. The first customers are expected to be connected early next year with project completion estimated in two to four years.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

New law set to bring delivery robots to Georgia

ATLANTA – Georgia is about to embark on a new form of transportation technology that fits the needs of the era of e-commerce.

Legislation the General Assembly passed this year that takes effect on Friday will authorize “personal delivery devices” better known as delivery robots to ply the state’s highways and sidewalks.

House Bill 1009, which cleared the Georgia House of Representatives and state Senate overwhelmingly, sets out regulations governing delivery robots, including where and when they can operate and at what speeds, weight limits, and penalties for violators.

“If we’re letting robots on the streets, we need to have requirements for them,” said state Rep. Todd Jones, R-South Forsyth, the bill’s sponsor.

Without rules in place for delivery robots, the technology has seen limited use in Georgia. But that may be about to change.

Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A announced plans late last month to test delivery robots at a limited number of restaurants in Florida, Texas, and California.

“Two-thirds of my business is delivery,” said Luke Steigmeyer, operator of a Chick-fil-A in Austin, Texas, that already is deploying delivery robots in partnership with an Austin-based autonomous delivery company.

“The autonomous vehicles have been instrumental in growing awareness of delivery at my restaurant, allowing us to reach even more customers in the area.”

Delivery robots are equipped with artificial intelligence systems and advanced depth-perception cameras that allow them to navigate traffic patterns, avoid pedestrians and maneuver through car and bicycle lanes as well as sidewalks.  

Insulated to keep food at the right temperature, the robots keep customers updated on their progress via text messages as they navigate to the designated drop-off spot.

Under the new Georgia law, delivery robots will be permitted to operate on non-limited access highways with speed limits of 45 miles an hour or less, and at no more than 20 miles an hour when on sidewalks with at least a four-foot path for persons with disabilities.

They can weigh no more than 500 pounds when empty and 600 pounds when carrying cargo and emit a sound when they come within six feet of another vehicle, a person on foot or someone in a wheelchair.

Local governments will be allowed to set hours of operation for delivery robots and prohibit them operating on the grounds of schools, hospitals, or sidewalks adjacent to stadiums, coliseums, or government buildings.

Cities and counties also will be permitted to restrict the robots to certain geographical areas of their communities.

While violations will not be treated as criminal offenses, they will be subject to a civil penalty of up to $500.

Jones said easing the way for businesses to use delivery robots in Georgia is one way state policymakers can show corporate prospects the Peach State is technology friendly.

“We continue to to flex the envelope so industry sees Georgia as a great place to ‘sandbox’ ideas,” he said.

“This is the type of legislation that says, ‘This isn’t just a great place to do business. We’re going to work with you to get to the outer limits of innovation.’ ”

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.