A new image

On the façade, it says Goodwill Emporium, Edgar's Bistro, Job Connection.


Inside, it is a battle against perception as much as it is lending a hand to clients to get them out of poverty.

The placement of a Goodwill store has more to do with being near the donors than close to the people who shop there.

"The equation doesn't work unless we can get the higher-disposable-income population to embrace Goodwill," says Jim Stiff, chief executive officer of Goodwill Industries of Middle Georgia and the CSRA -- a 35-county territory stretching from Macon to Aiken.

That's why the Good Books café on the new Augusta campus has an art wall and will have a monthly artist unveiling party with wine and cheese.

"People will shop up, but they won't shop down. The more appealing we make our stores and help people get past the ... 'we're not about taking the clothes you give us and give them to the poor,' " Stiff says. "Once people get past that impression, then there won't be a reaction to not shop at Goodwill 'cause I got a lot of money.' "

Goodwill's aim is to give people a "hand up" using the money from donated goods to underwrite training programs.

The organization relies on donations to subsidize its programs. From those donations, organization leaders hope to make a big economic impact.

In two years, the Village West Shopping Center at Washington and Furys Ferry roads will be transformed to include the Helms Career Institute, a larger version of a training academy that's been running in Macon since 2007.

Goodwill says it will have 200 full-time employees by 2012 and, through its Job Connection and Helms Institute, be able to place 500 people in jobs throughout the region.

Over the first decade of operation, Goodwill believes it will train and then place 5,700 people in jobs with total earnings exceeding $600 million.

In Macon, the campus has created 191 jobs, 77 in its hospitality training division.

Jay Stancill is the director of that culinary school. Macon-area restaurateurs are clamoring to hire his students before they've graduated. They all get SafeServ certified, and restaurants like to see that certification for their managers, Stancill says.

Students work in the kitchens for events catered at the Macon campus event center. They also work at the restaurant there, Edgar's Bistro, which has a liquor license. It is the only Goodwill location in the nation to have one.

Stancill says Edgar's is open only during the day because it has no nighttime classes. But they are coming. The number of students wanting a culinary education at Helms Institute is growing.

Some of that growth is word of mouth through the success of its graduates, who serve as executive chefs at the city's convention center and operate the kitchens at the nearby Macon Community College.

"We think it will have the same positive impact on Augusta, too," Stiff says.

As a career developer, Goodwill in Macon has enrolled 14,000 people over five years and placed 2,600 people in jobs.

The Helms Institute is seeking an accreditation that will allow it to offer associates degrees in Macon and Augusta.

"There's enough population here and enough need that we think they'll have an impact on the lives of the people they teach," said Terry Elam, president of Augusta Technical College.

The Macon campus occupies an old Sam's Club that sat vacant when Sam's moved to a different location on Eisenhower Drive.

Macon Mayor Robert Reichert says something likely would have moved into the space, perhaps a subdivided commercial strip, had Goodwill not bought it five years ago, but it would not have had the same impact as Goodwill. Goodwill has created a destination spot at the edge of the city.

"Certainly it draws more people out to that area. As a matter of fact, they had to extend the bus line out there cause the thrift store is so popular," Reichert says.

Between the Good Books café, Emporium store and Edgar's Bistro, the campus generated $14 million in five years to underwrite Goodwill's training missions.

Stiff says the combination of training academy, job aid center, thrift store, restaurant, coffee house and event center on one campus has a lot of other Goodwill CEOs calling to visit.

As for Augusta, Stiff says: "We have a lot of people who are curious. ... I tell them 2013." That gives the local Goodwill time to finish the Augusta campus and then play host to Goodwill executives from around the world.

"We believe there are franchise opportunities if the model can be worked out. The mission and profitability are working," he adds.

Goodwill isn't done when the Augusta expansion is ready. Stiff says Goodwill bought 4 acres in Aiken next to Hitchcock Plaza.

Aiken will get a miniature version of the Macon/Augusta campus.

The organization now is in the midst of finishing its fundraising efforts to complete the Augusta campus. It needs to raise another $3 million in the next 12 months to start the renovations that will yield the training institute and bistro.

A year ago, the Development Authority of Richmond County approved the issuance of up to $8 million in industrial revenue bonds for Goodwill to finance phase one, which opened to customers Saturday. Goodwill raised $4 million in pledges as its share of the financing.

In all, the project will cost $14 million, and that doesn't include the cost of the teaching hotel, which hasn't been priced.