Gov. Deal mostly correct about Georgia population moving up nationally

Georgia is now the eighth most populous state in the nation, moving from the number 10 position in just four years.

Gov. Nathan Deal in his State of the State speech on January 14th, 2015

Size matters.

That was the implication in a recent round of news stories, touting Florida surpassing New York as the second most populous state in the nation.

Overlooked in most coverage was Georgia’s move up, something Gov. Nathan Deal tried to rectify in his State of the State speech on Wednesday.

“Georgia is now the eighth most populous state in the nation, moving from the number 10 position in just four years,” Deal said.

Political junkies know that with more people comes, at the very least, more Congressional seats. Or, as Deal would have it, evidence that a state is creating jobs and drawing top talent from around the nation.

But looking at just the data, is Deal right on the numbers? PolitiFact Georgia decided to check it out.

The question of population falls to the U.S. Census Bureau, which in addition to conducting the decennial count that determines Congressional representation also releases annual population estimates for each state.

The latest, pegged to July 1, estimated that 10,097,343 live in Georgia. That’s an increase of 102,584 from 2013, or a little bit larger than the city of Sandy Springs.

It’s the first time Georgia reached the milestone of 10 million residents, and it puts the Peach State in 8th place among all states.

That means Deal is right on the first part of his statement. But he’s off when comparing to four years ago, and the numbers from the 2010 Census.

Way back when Betty White was a mere 88 years old, and “The Walking Dead” first showed what could happen to Georgia in a zombie apocalypse, the state had 9,687,653 people, Census data show.

That put Georgia in ninth place in terms of population, just behind Michigan but one slot ahead of neighboring North Carolina.

But what about Deal’s bigger point, that our growth is a signal of greater economic development? There, the same data can back him up.

The 2014 Census data makes it look as if North Carolina surpassed Michigan in the latest counts. It did – but Georgia surged past Michigan first, said Robert Bernstein, a spokesman with the agency.

“You’ll see it occasionally that a state will surpass another,” Bernstein said. “What’s significant here is Michigan was leapfrogged twice, by both Georgia and North Carolina.”

Part of that shift is undoubtedly for jobs. The recent announcement that Mercedes-Benz USA will move its headquarters to metro Atlanta does not take people from Michigan, long the home to the nation’s auto industry.

But it is another example of the gradual creation of the Southeast as the industry’s new hub. Chris Carr, the commissioner of Georgia’s Department of Economic Development, said Georgia had earlier lost out to Alabama for Mercedes new manufacturing plant.

But the state left a good enough impression for the firm to consider it for its new headquarters, in part because the state’s growth is good for customers and workers alike, he said.

“When companies are looking for a place to go, need the right business climate but they want to make sure they are taking care of their employees and have a great place to live, too,” Carr said.

“There is a psychological impact that we are growing, that shows people there is a reason to be here,” Carr said.

That was the point Deal was trying to make, when he claimed Georgia is now the 8th most populous state and moved up two spots in just four years.

The governor was off on the state’s ranking four years ago. But he is right about where the state’s population is now – and how that population can tie to jobs.

We rate Deal’s statement Mostly True.