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Experts share advice on growing Augusta’s economic base and workforce

The tournament has ended and golf patrons have left town. Now, the focus returns to growing Augusta the other 51 weeks of the year. That was the message to the Women in Business luncheon on April 18, sponsored by the Greater Augusta Chamber of Commerce.

Three experts who well know hospitality, downtown development, and economic growth brought their expertise to the luncheon. Bennish Brown, President of Destination Augusta, Margaret Woodard, Executive Director of the Downtown Development Authority, and Cal Wray, President of the Augusta Economic Development Authority explained the selling of Augusta.

All agree Augusta is fortunate to have a natural selling point, the Masters Golf Tournament. It puts the city on the world stage for one week each year. They use that week to host business owners and industry leaders, showing them how their businesses and employees can thrive in the Garden City.

Each year, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce hosts the Red Carpet Tour, bringing business executives to learn about Augusta. Wray said tournament week is an opportunity for him and his counterparts in Columbia and Burke Counties to take the visitors on bus tours to highlight key elements available locally.

“This year, it was companies that are looking at the state of Georgia or companies that just announced in the state of Georgia. And then, every third year, it’s actual site selection consultants who are controlling projects all over the country,” he said. “And obviously, they get a chance to ask us questions, the good, the bad, the ugly of the community. And we think as we stack our workforce, our livability, and our businesses against any other community and country, we’re going to come out ahead.”

One of the big selling points was introducing the visitors to Augusta’s lively and growing Central Business District.

“This year, we loved to show off all the hard work from the Arts Council with the murals and the sculpture trail, and all the great things going on downtown because it’s not just about business, it’s about quality of life,” Woodard explained. “When companies come in, they want to know where their employees are going to live, what their quality of life is going to be like. Is there going to be arts and culture, is there green space, is downtown walkable, what is their quality of life?”

While Augusta has much to offer, there are still ways to grow. Brown said some of the best suggestions on ways to improve Augusta come from the people who live here.

“The voice of this local community that says, ‘Here is what we love about Augusta, here is what is unique about Augusta. Here’s what I enjoy as a resident of Augusta and this is what you should have as part of your promotion of Augusta’,” he said. “Or they say ‘Here’s what’s missing in Augusta. Here’s what we would like to have to enhance what we already have.’ I think that helps keep our community marching forward.”

All agree on one thing. It is vital to support what is already available in the area. As Wray explained,

“We have local businesses, whether they’re franchises, whether they’re owned locally, or whether they’re owned internationally, support it. If it’s downtown, attend the restaurants, if there are entertainment events, go to those entertainment events. How many times you’ve seen a business close, and you regret it’s closed, but you never went there yourself.”

“Don’t take for granted some of the things that a lot of communities would love to would love,” advised Brown. “We have Ironman, we have Nike Peach Jam. Those are things other communities would pay to have. And I was so surprised when I got here that there’s no fanfare when these events are here. So, we’ve got to show love to these events that are coming here.”

Brown said they are working on a festival that honors James Brown and his impact on global music. He also anticipates his office, along with the Augusta Sports Council, will look for ways to draw people back to the Savannah River, similar to the mid-to-late 1980’s, when the city hosted powerboat and drag boat races and the Southeastern Rowing Regatta.

Woodard said her office is partnering with Augusta Technical College to build a micro-enterprise center in the downtown corridor. It will be called The Hive, short for Headquarters for Innovation, Venture Capital, and Entrepreneurship. It will serve as an incubator and accelerator for people to learn how to start up a small business. The goal is, after 12 months, to move the business into a brick-and-mortar building in the CBD.

She said, “We are eclectic and we’re alive and we are open for business.”

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