Per capita personal income grew in all 15 counties across the Northwest Georgia region from 2015 to 2016. Pickens County leads the way with residents earning $41,987 on average, while Murray County brings up the rear with a per capita personal income figure of $27,904. The data was released last week by the U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Floyd County ranked second in the Northwest Georgia region with a per capita figure of $36,470.

Gerry Nechvatal is the executive director and economic development director for the Pickens County Chamber of Commerce. He said Pickens is still what many would consider to be the first rural community outside of the metro Atlanta area heading north into the mountains.

“We have the type of property and housing options that I think attract the higher income people,” Nechvatal said. “It is a quality of life that is driving people to come here as well as stay here. We don’t’ have the congestion issues, we do have a lot of space.”

The population of Pickens County is right around 30,000. Nechvatal said that by contrast, the city of Canton just south of Pickens County has a population in excess of 26,000.

“Quality of life is a driving force in our planning and development decision making, because it is something we don’t want to lose as growth does inevitably does come this way.”

Pickens County is the only county in the 15-county region with a per capita income in excess of $40,000. At the other end of the spectrum is Murray County and Chattooga County, which were the only counties in the region where the per capita figure is less than $30,000. Murray occupied the basement at $27,904.

The complete list of counties and 2016 per capita income figures includes:

Bartow $35,306

Catoosa $33,083

Chattooga $28,840

Dade $31,181

Fannin $32,139

Floyd $36,470

Gilmer $31,148

Gordon $32,234

Haralson $32,295

Murray $27,904

Paulding $34,167

Pickens $41,987

Polk $30,002

Walker $30,715

Whitfield $36,068

Cherokee, Alabama $33,057

Georgia Highland College economics Professor Bruce Jones expressed some surprise that the difference between Pickens County and Floyd County at number two, some $5,517, was as large as it was.

“I guess it must be the case that we have got a substantial number of people at the bottom end of the income strata because, as you know, we’ve got a sizeable number at the top end,” Jones said. “We’ve got a lot of physicians and medical workers.”

Jones said another reason for the disparity may be the still sizeable agriculture community in Floyd County as opposed to the relatively small agricultural demographic in Pickens County. “Agriculture workers tend not to make as much as some others,” Jones said.

“We’re continuing to work for the low income folks to improve their opportunities through better education and workforce development,” said Rome Floyd Chamber President Al Hodge. “The best program for reduction and elimination of poverty is a good job.”

All 15 of the counties across Northwest Georgia were well below both the state and national averages. Across the entire state, per capita income was $42,159 in 2016, up 2.8 percent from the previous year. Nationally, the per capita figure was $49,246 but the increase was only 1.6 percent from 2015.

Jones took some solace from the fact that the rate of growth in Floyd County is 2.2 percent, well above the national rate of growth.

“We’ve probably had some new people at higher income levels,” Jones said.

“It is good, but we want it to be better,” said Hodge. “We have a relentless pursuit for new investors in our community.”

Hodge said the Chamber is making a concerted to effort to broaden the already diverse foundation of Rome’s workforce, which includes health care, education and manufacturing,

Among Georgia’s 14 Standard metropolitan Statistical Areas, Rome ranked ninth, with a per capita figure that was just $4 better than Athens and Clarke County. Dalton ranked 12th. Atlanta was number one with a per capita income figure of $47,348 which only ranked it 94th in the nation. Hinesville had the smallest per capita figure among the major communities in Georgia at $31,717.