When Neil Gordon told me that he was planning a weekly special issue of the Augusta Business Daily focused on Economic Development, I wholeheartedly thought it would be a great idea and definitely wanted to be a part of it. Upon my arrival in Augusta and the CSRA a little over six years ago, I quickly realized that this area had many of the pieces in place for significant economic development and in those six years, additional important pieces have been put in place. In this, my first column for this important series, I will review what makes Augusta and the CSRA fertile ground for economic development. In the coming weeks and months, I will periodically return to these special issues to address key elements of our local economic development.
In order for an area to be primed for economic development, it must be an attractive location for both businesses and people. One big plus for our area is that much of it is located in the State of Georgia. In September, Georgia was ranked the number one state for business by Area Development magazine for the ninth consecutive year. In this ranking, states are evaluated on thirteen different factors and Georgia ranked in the top ten in all of them and ranked first in seven of them, including the overall cost of doing business, workforce development programs (e.g., Georgia Quick Start), cooperative and responsive state government, competitive labor environment, real estate availability, and energy availability and cost. Most of these factors have to do with the low cost and ease of doing business. The Augusta area’s proximity to ports, interstates, and airports allows those benefits to be increased even further.
As noted above, for strong economic development to be possible, we must also go beyond those benefits and look at other reasons businesses and individuals would be attracted to Augusta and the CSRA. For economic development to flourish, businesses need to locate here and the people to work at those businesses must be accessible here. We have a number of such strong suits:
Excellent Healthcare: Both businesses and people are attracted to areas where high-quality healthcare is easily accessible. We are fortunate to have three outstanding health systems in Augusta alone: Augusta University (soon to be part of WellStar), Piedmont Augusta, and Doctor’s (part of HCA). In addition, having a Cancer Center and Children’s Hospital are not very common for a metropolitan area of our size. Finally, having the state’s only public medical school and only dental school provides a much higher density of medical professionals and the availability of more specialists than in most cities. In addition, for veterans and other military members, there is a large Veterans Administration (VA) hospital and a medical center (Eisenhower) on Fort Gordon. Individuals and businesses both value accessible and quality healthcare highly, so our prowess in that area is a major asset for economic development.
Post-Secondary Education: The availability of post-secondary (i.e., after high school) education in our area is another outstanding asset of Augusta/CSRA to make it a prime location for economic development. Businesses are always looking for areas with strong talent and individuals are looking for conveniently accessible development options. The area has three universities, including two high-quality, affordable state institutions (Augusta University and USC-Aiken), and an HBCU, Paine College. Also, sometimes overlooked by some individuals, but not by businesses, are the outstanding technical colleges (Augusta Tech and Aiken Tech) that provide important training and talent to the workforce. In recent years, workforce availability and its development have become the number one criterion for business location.
Economic Stability/Government Support: An underrated element of our area that supports our potential for economic development is the presence of governmental agencies as an important part of our economy. With an extremely large Department of Defense/National Security Agency presence at Fort Gordon and a similarly large Department of Energy presence at the Savannah River Site (SRS), a fairly stable baseline economy in the area is ensured, lowering the risk to other businesses of having to deal with a major economic downturn locally. The DoD and DoE presence also ensures a consistent population and additional workforce from people leaving those agencies and their family members.
Emerging Cyber Ecosystem: While it has not grown as quickly as some expected, the Augusta area is poised to have significant economic development around the area of Cybersecurity. The combination of all U.S. Army Cyber efforts at Fort Gordon and the State of Georgia’s efforts at the Georgia Cyber Center in downtown Augusta will ultimately lead to a large amount of economic development to complement the area’s strong governmental and manufacturing segments.
Economic Development Teams and Collaboration: Finally, one more component that positions the area well for strong economic development is the strong advocacy we have in the area from local economic development leaders such as Cal Wray and Robbie Bennett. During the time I have been here, they have been extremely successful in attracting businesses and working together collaboratively for the overall good of the area.
As you can see, we have the pieces in place here in Augusta/CSRA for strong, ongoing economic development. Please join me and the rest of the ABD team in the coming weeks and months to see how things continue to grow!