Augusta Business Daily’s fourth Conference and Expo allowed attendees to learn about local small businesses, meet business owners, and have good old-fashioned networking at SRP Park on May 17.
In addition to this, the event consisted of two-panel discussions, with one focusing on economic development and the other on employment recruitment and retention.
It was standing room only for the economic development panel, with Lauren Dallas of Augusta Tomorrow as emcee and featuring, Steve Clayborn of Salamis, LLC, Davis Beman of Beman Real Estate, Bob Bigger of SRP, and Derek May of Azalea Investments.
The nearly one-hour panel discussion covered a cross-section of local development, but ultimately turned its attention to 2020 through 2021 and the nearly crippling pandemic impact on business.
“Three years ago, roughly, I walked out on Broad Street. Looked like Zombie Apocalypse, it was freaky,” May told the attendees. “It is hard to believe how far we’ve come so quickly. The Augusta Marriott is having the best year in its history and a hotel is one of the most sensitive economic indicators and it’s one of the last things to come out of a recession. At this time, three years ago, Marriott was closed.”
May said one of the biggest changes during the pandemic and continuing now is the use of office space. He anticipates that office-based businesses will re-think the environment. Some employees came to prefer working from home and were reluctant to return to the office. May believes businesses may look for ways to re-configure individual office spaces into a more open design where employees can come together as needed to collaborate, while still offering some level of work-from-home scheduling.
Beman agreed the big office spaces are still feeling the biggest impact from the pandemic.
“I can think of 12 buildings that have anywhere from 20 to 80,000 square feet,” he said. He said that impacts surrounding businesses, citing Electrolux leaving the National Hills Shopping Center, except for its call center operations. “They went to 8,000 square foot facility, they didn’t just leave the office, they also moved elsewhere, so that has a very penetrable effect on all of your businesses, owning a restaurant or retail in the nearby neighborhood. So, we’ve got to figure out how to reinvent the wheel and the big box office, like we did 10 years ago with a big box retail.”
However, Clayborn advised audience members to not completely turn away from remote work, and from using technology as a tool in their business plan.
“The digital world is worldwide and you don’t have to be physically located in one place to do anything,” he advised. “So, if your business is not already in the digital world, that’s one area you need to start looking at. It’s going to be the next stage in this revolution. If you’re not already looking at AI in the digital world and how it can be incorporated into your business, you need to really start thinking about it. Because that’s going to open up a whole new world of opportunity.”
Bigger said anyone who owns a business, particularly a small business, needs to have a well-established support system. A mentor who has weathered previous economic downturns can be especially valuable.
“If you’re a small, new small business, and find a network, find a mentor, someone who’s maybe been through some things that you haven’t been through, that can be a resource to help whatever comes up again in the future,” he said. So, all about building good partnerships, and good networks to give you resources when times get hard.”
Trisha Roland, a realtor with Wheatley and Associates, was glad she listened to the panel discussion.
“As a real estate agent, economic development really impacts my industry,” she explained. “We have a really strong economy. And I’m very hopeful on how things will progress.”
Dallas credited the panel members with providing suggestions and observations about the current local economy, as well as the years to come.
“These are our business leaders. So, they’re not only the past, present, and future of the business community, but what’s to come for,” Dallas said after the session concluded. “Not only our downtown, but just Augusta as a whole as we try and overcome challenges. So, I thought they were wonderful and they represented diverse areas and industries.”
With a successful fourth expo in the rear-view mirror, plans are underway for another event in October. If you’re interested in participating or attending, contact Neil Gordon at email@example.com or Janine Garropy at firstname.lastname@example.org.