Sat, April 13, 2024

Local legislators celebrate business wins and discuss future challenges

The 2023 legislative session that just ended revealed great strides for CSRA businesses through small business and workforce development and growing educational opportunities to accomplish those goals, but there is much more to be done.

Dozens of business and government leaders met with Columbia County’s local legislative delegation at a breakfast held yesterday morning for a post-session recap. Representatives Jodi Lott (R-District 131), Barry Fleming (R-District 125), Dr. Mark Newton (R-District 127), and Senator Lee Anderson (R-District 24) attended and much of the focus was on ways to encourage existing and start-up small businesses.

“A lot of the stuff we do, you all hear about the headline issues, but a lot of times it’s small issues,” Newton said. “There was an extension of an ability for a small business owner to pay your state taxes in advance and be able to deduct them from your federal taxes. It gets kind of wonky at times. But I can tell you, it can make a huge difference to a small business owner.”

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Lott agreed with Newton’s assessment of the need to support small businesses. She said one way that is happening in Columbia County is providing specialized educational opportunities to improve workforce development. That can also lead to large businesses and manufacturing operations choosing Columbia County.

“We have Dr. Keel with Augusta University and we have Dr. Whirl with Augusta Technical College. We are all focused on workforce development, they are obviously educating the community,” she said. “The things we’ve done even recently to grow cyber, to grow healthcare, to grow nursing. And now, we are looking to grow a manufacturing center in Columbia County. That manufacturing center will help us in that whole next level of bringing the workforce to our community, the workforce that we need here. And then we can bring in new industry, once we get the manufacturing center going.”

WJBF news anchor, Brad Means, moderates the panel discussion with Representatives Newton, Lott, and Fleming, and Senator Lee Anderson.

Augusta Tech last year announced plans to develop a state-of-the-art Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering Technology Center in Columbia County. It envisions a fully simulated manufacturing facility that will include classrooms and labs for engineering, robotics, chemical technology, and machining. The college is also working with the Columbia County School District to include summer camps for middle school students, dual enrollment, apprenticeships, and continuing education in the facility.

“I think the whole idea behind this advanced manufacturing training facility that Dr. Whirl’s working on at Augusta Tech is exactly what we need in Columbia County,” said County Manager, Scott Johnson. “This is going to be a large campus. It’s not just Augusta Tech. It’s going to be training areas for local businesses as the school system may be involved. Hospitals will be able to go right into these training facilities and then go right into these jobs. So, I think overall, this is what we have to have.”

Members of the delegation also pointed to new laws designed to help women-, minority- and veteran-owned businesses have better access to bidding on state contracts. House Bill 128 will cut red tape, support small businesses and increase competition within the procurement process.

Also approved was House Bill 155. For anyone who is relocating to Georgia with a professional license, such as Cosmetology, the bill would make it easier to acquire a license in the Peach State. This can be particularly helpful for military spouses assigned to Fort Gordon (soon to be Fort Eisenhower) or other military posts in the state.

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