Ken Stewart, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development

The drought won’t hurt Georgia’s recruitment of new businesses, said Ken Stewart, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

“Water is not an excuse in my opinion,” Mr. Stewart said at a Feb. 25 economic forecasting conference at Georgia State University.

The drought has changed Georgia’s thinking about water, Mr. Stewart said.

“We’ve taken on a conservation mindset,” he said.

He also pointed to cities such as Las Vegas, which were until the recent economic downturn among the fastest growing cities in the U.S. even though they get far less rain than Atlanta.

Rainfall amounts in Atlanta have been dropping in recent years, said Georgia’s climatologist David Stooksbury.  From 1979-1993, rainfall at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport averaged 50.6 inches per year. From 1994-2008, the average was 46.69 inches, said Dr. Stooksbury.

In 2007, a particularly dry year, Atlanta received only 31.85 inches. In the fall of that year, Georgia environmental officials warned that metro Atlanta only had a 90-day supply of water left. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers later reduced the amount of water it released from Lake Lanier for downstream users.

Mr. Stewart vowed that Georgia will continue to aggressively recruit new businesses, despite the economic downturn and state budget cuts likely to reduce marketing funds for economic development.

“It’s time to knock on more doors, call on more customers,” he said.

He cited the strength of Georgia’s economy, including thousands of jobs that will be created by the new Kia plant in West Point slated to open later this year, a biotechnology conference in Atlanta in May that is expected to attract 15,000 to 20,000 participants and the acquisition by Delta Air Lines Inc. of Northwest Airlines Corp., making Georgia home to the world’s largest airline.

“Our goal it to get a disproportionate share of the jobs available,” said Mr. Stewart. “We are going to hang tight, be diligent.”