Three of Georgia‘s top economic development leaders insisted Tuesday that metro Atlanta’s efforts to recruit new businesses won’t be hurt by a federal judge’s recent ruling that could severely cut the amount of water the region draws from Lake Lanier.

“This is a very adaptable region and state that constantly reinvents itself,” Sam Williams, president and CEO of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, said at a news conference held to provide a mid-year update on efforts to attract new businesses to Georgia.  

A federal judge, Paul Magnuson, ruled July 17 that Lake Lanier’s major purpose as originally authorized by Congress was navigation, hydro power and flood control, not drinking water for metro Atlanta. Unless Congress acts within three years, metro Atlanta must drastically reduce the amount of water it takes out of Lanier, the judge ruled. Georgia is appealing the ruling while also seeking Congressional action.

Metro Atlanta has many options to resolve the water controversy, including increased conservation and constructing additional reservoirs, Mr. Williams said.

 “We’ve been in a water confrontation for 20 years,” Mr. Williams said of the lengthy court fight with Florida and Alabama over the use of water in Lake Lanier, a federally constructed reservoir that captures water from the Chattahoochee River and is metro Atlanta’s main water source.

Mr. Williams pointed out that although metro Atlanta has suffered from a severe drought in recent years, it normally gets 48-50 inches of rain a year, far more than many cities such as Las Vegas or Los Angeles, he said.

With normal rainfall, increased conservation and new reservoirs, the region can ensure an adequate water supply, Mr. Williams said. “Conservation is a doable thing,” he said.

Lake Lanier, completed in 1956, was the last major reservoir constructed in metro Atlanta.

Three years is adequate time to resolve the controversy, said George Israel, president and CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. “The problem is that we have been in drought,” said Mr. Israel. “Rain is coming back. It’s cyclical.”

Ken Stewart, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, said companies scouting new locations are concerned about factors such as a quality labor supply, efficient transportation, a business-friendly environment, financial incentives and quality of life.

Georgia ranks highly in all those areas and has “an unparalleled set of assets that will continue to attract a wide variety of industries,” said Mr. Stewart.

Despite a down economy, Georgia continues to get new companies while existing businesses expand, the development leaders said.

They cited the June decision by NCR Corp., a Fortune 500 company, to relocate its corporate headquarters to Gwinnett County, an Atlanta suburb, from Dayton, Ohio, adding 1,250 jobs. NCR is also building an ATM factory in Columbus, Ga., adding 870 jobs and expanding a call center and customer support facility in Peachtree City, adding 916 jobs over 26 months. More than half of NCR’s revenues are from international sales.

The Metro Atlanta Chamber cited 6,857 new jobs from relocations and expansions so far this year in the region, a figure that includes the NCR headquarters relocation.

The Georgia Economic Development Department’s International Trade Division in fiscal year 2009, which ended June 30, assisted 725 Georgia companies and helped close 219 deals in 42 countries, the state announced. The number of trade deals increased more than 30 percent and the dollar amount jumped nearly 67 percent, to $29.1 million.

Mr. Williams, the Metro Atlanta chamber president, stressed that its recruiting efforts are aimed at high-paying jobs. He cited a chamber committee that will target biotechology jobs.

“We don’t want growth for the sake of growth,” he said. “We’re not shotgun marketing anymore. We’re laser targeting.”

The chamber continues to push for jobs abroad, with trips this year to Brazil, India, China, France, the Netherlands and other countries, said Mr. Williams.