Published on 09/22/97

Not Everybody Likes 'The Georgia County Guide'

In the 1990s, Forsyth County is the fastest growing county in Georgia. So which is the fastest shrinking county?

Providing the answers to questions like that makes "The Georgia County Guide" a mighty unpopular book at times, says the book's creator.

"There's a lot of controversy in the book because it ranks statistical data by county," said Doug Bachtel, a rural sociologist with the University of Georgia College of Family and Consumer Sciences. "It's like documenting that your daughter is ugly."

Rankings are fine if they don't tell you most counties are better off than you in such serious areas as per-capita income, crime rate or births to unwed mothers.

"The people at the top don't mind a bit," Bachtel said. "They're not the ones who write the letters to us, though."

But the rankings are important. "People are quite interested in the rankings," he said. "The rankings can help put together important pictures of your community."

The 16th annual edition of "The Georgia County Guide" is being released this month. It includes data on scores of topics in 17 areas on every Georgia county.

The book is $15. A Windows data base is available for $90. You may order either through the county extension office. Or send a request, with a check to The Georgia County Guide, to Ag Business Office, 203 Conner Hall, The University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602-7506.

Don't wait too long to order. They never print that many books. "We sell about 3,000 a year," said Sue Boatright, the data collection coordinator for the book.

Bachtel began compiling "The Georgia County Guide" in 1981. It was much harder work then. "I spent the Christmas break that first year ranking counties by population from one to 159 from 1930 to 1980," he said. "Now, that sort of thing is done by computer in an instant."

He originally produced the book "so a company considering moving to Georgia could find the facts and figures it needed," he said. "But after we got into it, we found that even people living here needed that information."

Bachtel is quick to point out that he isn't "the state's bean- counter." The book's data comes from a range of sources, all available to the public.

"It's not 'my' data," he said. "We just put it in an easy-to-use form."

Poring over data on such topics as crime, poverty and leading causes of death, though, takes its toll.

"One of the prerequisites is that you have to have a sense of humor," Bachtel said. "Sometimes it's overwhelming. I don't watch the local news anymore. I don't want to put faces with the numbers."

Dan Rahn is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.