ATLANTA - The economic influence of metro Atlanta is still growing.
A soon-to-be created federal designation of metropolitan areas reveals Atlanta's influence has extended from a few counties around the city to an area hundreds of miles wide.
When the boundaries are announced next year, the new Atlanta region could grow to as many as 28 counties from the present 20. The new region would add Haralson, Heard, Meriwether, Pike, Lamar, Butts, Jasper and Dawson counties.
It also might include Hall, Habersham, Gordon, Troup and Upson counties, and Chambers County, Ala. That would be a metro area larger than nine states, including Massachusetts and New Jersey, and capable of generating a combined income higher than 35 states.
The federal Office of Management and Budget uses census commuting statistics to define metro areas.
"Through the decades, the region has been an attractive place," said Tom Weyandt, the director of comprehensive planning for the Atlanta Regional Commission. "It's attracted a wide, and diverse, range of commerce and ... people."
About 65 percent of the new region's population lives in the five core counties of metro Atlanta, he said - Fulton, Gwinnett, Cobb, DeKalb and Clayton.
Some experts, however, say the new region is a sign of unmanaged sprawl that could eventually choke off economic growth. They say the long commutes, the pollution and the location of commercial areas too far from where people live may eventually make the area unattractive to both businesses and their workers.
"There has got to be a better regional approach to tackling the regional challenges," says Bruce Katz, former chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development who is now the director of the Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy at the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank.