By Bob Balgemann

Buckhead isn’t immune to the economic downturn, but it has fared better than most, according to reports provided during the recent Atlanta Region and Buckhead Demographics and Growth Trends Seminar put on by the Buckhead Area Transportation Management Association (BATMA).

More than 50 people, primarily business leaders, gathered at Maggiano’s restaurant to hear findings from the Atlanta Regional Commission’s research division chief, Mike Alexander.

Denise Starling, the executive director of BATMA, said the group staged its first such seminar to eliminate “a vacuum for this kind of information.” She said seminar attendees, mostly in development and real estate, will use the information in their promotional and leasing materials.

They have a lot to promote in Buckhead.

Buckhead has seen solid employment growth in all sectors, thanks to additional high-end office space, and “remains a unique regional geography for high-end products,” Alexander said.

Buckhead has 19.672 million square feet of office space. Current construction will expand that total by 25 percent, and 76 percent more is proposed. The area has 7.76 million square feet of retail, with an additional 9 percent under construction and 30 percent more proposed.

Buckhead has 5,078 hotel rooms, and proposed construction would nearly double that number. The area also has 19,176 multifamily homes, a total that will grow 31 percent through current construction and could rise an additional 90 percent under building proposals.

Alexander’s maps of income and housing sales show that Buckhead “continues to be one of the most sought-after locations for high-end housing in the U.S.”

“The amount of wealth is unbelievable,” he said. “This is the wealthiest place in the Southeast.”

The news is not as good across the 20 counties covered by the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC), but “there has been a lot of growth,” Alexander said. “Growth means we’ve been successful.”

Metro Atlanta is the fastest-growing region in the nation since 2000, adding 1.03 million people. Next were Dallas and Houston.

The city of Atlanta, which lost people in the 1970s and 1980s, has grown to 464,200 people from 416,474 in 2000.

“Buckhead was a big benefactor of that growth,” Alexander said.

On the negative side regionally, Alexander mentioned the housing market, lost jobs and high school graduation rates.

The number of building permits Atlanta issued in 2006-07 dropped 34 percent, the sharpest decline in the nation among big metro areas. Foreclosures rose 198 percent from 2000 to 2007 in the 10-county hub; Fulton County alone saw the number jump from 11,437 to 52,176.

The 20-county region lost 46,400 jobs from 2000 to 2003, then rebounded by adding 177,549 the next three years, Alexander said, though most of the new jobs were in lower-paying parts of the economy. Fulton and DeKalb counties suffered most of the jobs losses, he said.

Alexander called the state’s high school graduation rate “the gut punch.” Fayette County graduates more than 90 percent, but Spalding County’s rate is 56 percent. Fulton graduates 78 percent of its high school students. Statewide, 71 percent earn a diploma.

“This demands more thought, more work,’’ Alexander said.