Community leaders do not believe Georgia Regents University President Ricardo Azziz damaged the city’s image Wednesday when he told the state university system’s board of directors that Augusta’s population has decreased by 10 percent.
They would, however, like to know the source of his data.
“I was blown away,” said Margaret Woodard, the executive director of Downtown Augusta’s Economic Authority.
“Is his information even accurate?” she asked.
U.S. Census data shows Richmond County grew by 10,830 residents from 1990 to 2010, an increase of nearly 6 percent. Census figures showed the population was 189,719 in 1990 and 200,549 in 2010.
The Augusta-Aiken metropolitan area increased from 435,799 residents in 1990 to 556,877 in 2010, a 28 percent increase.
Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver said he has not spoken with Azziz since his presentation to the Board of Regents, but does not expect the comment to have any effect on the city’s image.
“I don’t think it will have any negative impact, just given the fact that you can look at the numbers and see that is not accurate,” Copenhaver said.
University spokeswoman Christen Carter did not return phone or e-mail messages Thursday asking to clarify the source of Azziz’s data.
She did, however, maintain in one e-mail that Azziz meant to refer to the rate at which Atlanta’s population is growing in comparison to other areas of Georgia, such as Augusta.
“There have been significant changes in the demographics of the state of Georgia,” Azziz said in addressing the looming challenges facing GRU during a progress report to the University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents Wednesday in Atlanta.
“For the last 20 years, the population of Atlanta has increased by 70 percent. The population of North Georgia has increased by 50 percent,” he said. “The population of South Georgia has decreased by 20 percent. The population of Augusta has decreased by 10 percent.”
“The reality is there are major changes in demographics in the state of Georgia, and we as a university are the only comprehensive research university that does not have a campus or a place in Atlanta.”
According to data in a 2012 report by the Atlanta Regional Commission, the regional planning and intergovernmental coordination agency for the 10-county area, the metro area grew by 61 percent from 1990 to 2010.
Beyond that, Trip Addison, the deputy director of the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget, which oversees Georgia’s State Data Center, said population statistics are broken down by either city or county and that more information would be needed to confirm Azziz’s assessment.
“We would need to know what he defines as North and South Georgia,” Addison said. “It’s kind of arbitrary.”
Some business leaders in Augusta would also like to know more on how Azziz got his data.
“Obviously, we have had an increase,” said Walter Sprouse, the executive director of the Augusta Economic Development Authority. “I can’t explain his numbers. It could have just been a typo or something in the way it was presented.”