It might surprise you to know I attended a community college.
It’s true: I simply wasn’t ready academically, emotionally or financially to go to a four-year university right out of high school.
It proved to be a sensible decision. My brain was better suited to smaller class sizes, there were fewer extracurricular distractions and my parents’ modest bank account was only moderately plundered.
I’m still a fan of community colleges, which is one of the reasons why I wanted to learn more about the fairly new cybersecurity degree program at our local community college, Georgia Military College’s Davis Road campus in Martinez.
Like most community colleges, GMC helps students transition to four-year universities or obtain an associate’s degree. That two-year degree is all most people will need to perform 17.6 percent of the jobs being created between 2012-2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s more jobs, by the way, than those requiring doctorate or bachelor’s degrees.
Mike Holmes, the chief academic officer for the Milledgeville, Ga.-based school, said GMC cybersecurity graduates could get a job in the IT industry, but he said the program is primarily designed to give students a foot in the door to a four-year cyber program.
“That’s really where we see ourselves fitting in,” he said.
Before classes let out for the summer, George Hendricks, GMC’s academic dean in Augusta, gave me a tour of the computer lab where students learn such things as basic programming, networking and information security skills. Coursework includes calculus, probability, statistics and something called “discrete mathematics.” (I’m a word guy, not a numbers guy.)
Hendricks said the program has been “very popular” in Augusta because of publicity generated by Fort Gordon’s cybersecurity missions. Of the program’s 68 students, more than half – 37 – are enrolled at the Davis Road campus.
Though GMC inhabits the lower levels of the region’s cybersecurity-education “ecosystem,” that doesn’t mean it is operates in a vacuum; it not only has a memorandum of understanding with Fort Gordon, but it also operates a campus there.
It’s obvious to see why GMC created the program: Demand for information security analysts is projected to grow 18 percent between now and 2024, Holmes said, citing federal labor projections.
This community is blessed to have institutions participating at all levels of cyber education, from groups teaching coding to kids, such as The Clubhou.se, to STEM programs at local K-12 schools, to the degree- and certificate-granting technical colleges to four-year public and private universities.
I like new people moving to town as much as the next person – especially if those newcomers don’t toss Polar Pop cups out their cars, know how to use a turn signal and shut off their cellphones at the movie theater. But there are plenty of smart young people already in metro Augusta who, given the right opportunity, can help fill the future cybersecurity demand.
Some of those future cyber professionals can move from high school right into a four-year program. Others will need to make an intermediate step.
And that’s OK, too.
ALL IN FOR ALDI: Discount grocery chain ALDI will open its fourth metro area store Thursday, June 15, in Grovetown with a “Golden Ticket” distribution to the first 100 shopers.
Want to know what the ticket gets you? You’ll have to be there for the ribbon-cutting event at 8 a.m. (maybe even earlier: you know how people when “free” stuff is given out).
The store is at 3020 Gateway Boulevard, next to the new Chick-fil-A just off the Grovetown exit on Interstate 20.
SOMETIMES SMALL IS GOOD: A recent U.S. Department of Agriculture study on the decline in U.S. manufacturing between 1996-2011 showed that smaller, independently-owned plants were more likely to survive than larger ones.
The study, 2017 Rural Manufacturing Resilience: Factors Associated With Plant Survival, suggests small manufacturing plants – those with 100 or fewer employees – may have been more likely to tough it out because they tended to be second- or third-generation family businesses with deep ties to communities.
Small plants also were more likely to survive than multi-unit plants, which were found to be “more idiosyncratic in nature, with decisions likely made at headquarters and based on the entire firm’s standing across multiple sites.”
Apparel, textile and textile product manufacturing industries fared the worst, while food and beverage manufacturing suffered the least.
COOKING UP NEW INDUSTRY: Last year, consultants at a Development Authority of Columbia County luncheon specifically mentioned “food and beverage” companies as heavily scouting the metro area. For several months now, the Development Authority of Richmond County has had a $100 million industrial revenue bond deal for a company confidentially dubbed “Project Flower.” Authority officials have intimated that an announcement is coming soon.
I’m not speculating the industry is food-related (Project Flour?), but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was.
The last time a “greenfield” project hit Richmond County was 2012. That was the year Starbucks (that was “Project Skywalker” by the way) began construction on its VIA beverage plant. That was the same year work started at the on-again off-again color additives facility that eventually became Huntsman Pigments. Last year concrete additive maker EdenCrete said it would build a $70 million, 250-employee plant at the Augusta Corporate Park, but construction has not yet begun.
But don’t think economic developers are sitting on their duffs. There are a couple dozen active projects at any given time. The downside of the business is they only get points for projects that pan out.
Richmond County, for example, spent more than a year and a half working a case called “Silent Noise.” That project turned out to be out to be Sentury Tire, which settled on LaGrange, Ga., for its $530 million plant. The Chinese tire maker is expected to create up to 1,000 jobs.
CELEBRATE WHAT WE HAVE: No sense in crying over corporate citizens we almost had when we’ve got so many with a long history of community involvement. One of those, Medac, celebrated its 25th anniversary this year.
The North Augusta-based provider of outsourced anesthesia billing and practice management services was founded in 1992 by brothers Bijon and Kam Memar. Today, the privately held company also provides regulatory compliance and managed care contracting through 500 employees in 41 states.
CALL IT A COMEBACK: A few weeks back I noted an unfamiliar bank sign for Firstate in front of a commercial development in Evans.
Turns out the community bank, First State Bank of Wrens, Ga., is headed by Lee Clark, an executive I met many years ago when he was with Queensborough National Bank & Trust.
Clark contacted me recently to give me a little more background about how the company nearly became a statistic of the Great Recession. Most people don’t realize Georgia led the nation in bank failures during those years, and that Firsbank was on the FDIC’s “troubled bank” list in 2010.
Clark was born in Louisville, Ga., so taking a job heading up a Jefferson County bank was like “coming home.” Coming home to a mess, you could say.
The $119 million asset bank had annual losses of about $1 million, about $5 million in capital tied up in non-earning real estate assets and more than nearly $18 million in classified loans (loans people stopped paying back). Of course, it was under the federal Troubled Asset Relief Program.
Today, the bank has showed a profit every year since 2014, its non-performing real estate is down to $500,000 and its ’s classified loans are down to $2 million. And it’s out from under the TARP.
Now there’s a case of turning lemons into lemonade.
DRINKS TO GO: Sprint Food Stores Inc. has opened its second Metro to Go drive-through convenience store concept at the corner of Gordon Highway and Barton Chapel Road. The local chain’s first drive-through store opened earlier this year in Warrenville, S.C., at the intersection of Hitchcock Parkway and Augusta Road.
Customers can use two touch screen stations to order c-store staples such as milk, fruit, beer, wine and made-to-order food. The Metro-to-Go menu also offers all-day breakfast, sandwiches, salads, soups, flatbread pizzas, hot dogs and gourmet drinks. Sprint Spokeswoman Anna Felz said the digital kiosk lets orders be highly customizable.
“The food is made fresh to order, and you can make your order as healthy or as decadent as you’d like to fit your dietary preferences,” she said.
Sprint was founded in 1997 and now operates 20 metro area convenience stores.
The Gordon Highway store opened June 1 but will have its grand opening celebration June 29 through July 4 with specials ranging from buy-one-get-one-free deals to $1 milkshakes.
SPEAKING OF DOLLAR DEALS: Dollar General’s newest Augusta-area store recently opened at 5085 Mike Padgett Highway. It’s next area store at 2820 Joy Road — shoehorned in between the Bryant’s convenience store and the Willow Ridge Townhomes — is expected to open mid- to late-summer, company spokeswoman Laura Somerville said.
“The company looks for places where we can offer customers an easy and convenient shopping choice,” she said. “We know convenience is a major factor in our customers’ shopping decisions as we generally serve customers within a three to five mile radius, or 10 minute drive.”
The stores might not be pretty, but the Dollar General Literacy Foundation they support has donated $127 million to nonprofits since 1993. Think about that when you stop for paper plates on the way home.
NIGHT CLUBBING: Developers of two Broad Street night clubs are keeping their plans close to the vest (presumably to generate a buzz so they can have the pompous red velvet ropes and gatekeepers outside) but construction permits filed mention at least what the clubs are going to be called.
The Mojeska building at 813 Broad St., which last operated as a club called Lavish, is now going to be known as Empire. The Planned Parenthood building at 1289 Broad St., which last operated as, um, Planned Parenthood, is going to be called The Scene.
I DON’T GET OUT MUCH: I don’t often go to clubs. Most of the new people I meet are at luncheons and business events. When I tell them I’m a reporter, I sometimes get looks ranging from mild suspicion to a full-on grimace.
But I never received that reaction from George Duehring.
He was one of the first business leaders I met after moving here and — with the possible exception of the late Brian Mulherin — gave me the warmest welcome-to-the-community greeting I’ve ever had anywhere. And he was equally congenial every time I saw him afterward.
That genuine friendliness is what I’ll always remember about the businessman, who owned several local Zaxby’s franchises and helped support numerous community organizations. He died May 26 at age 74.
Duehring’s family and close friends will surely remember and celebrate the good-natured entrepreneur’s life during his funeral services Monday, June 12, at the St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church in Grovetown.
He will be missed but his businesses live on.
JUST GETTING STARTED: Metro Augusta has several Zaxby’s but only one Cheeseburger Bobby’s.
The Kennesaw, Ga.-based gourmet burger chain said it would put its first area restaurant at 212 Bobby Jones Expressway in the 2,400-square-foot building under construction where Stevi B’s Pizza used to be. But based on the building’s configuration and the prominence of its AT&T sign, one could easily assume the entire structure was an AT&T store.
There’s no Cheeseburger Bobby’s sign to be found anywhere. I emailed the Atlanta developer this past week and he told me the chain still plans to locate in the building. Last year the company’s co-founder told me he had plans for up to three franchises in the market.
Time will tell on both counts.
IN THE HERE AND NOW: There’s no shortage of burger joints in this town, and some of their finest creations will be ready for glorious consumption this week during The Augusta Chronicle’s 2nd annual Burgers & Beer Week contest.
Sponsored by beef purveyor FPL Food LLC and suds supplier River Watch Brewery, the contest kicks off June 15 and runs through June 25. What you want to do is go to a participating restaurant, sample their one-off burger created just for the contest and vote for your favorite through the Chronicle’s Facebook page. Share your photos with the hashtag #augustaburgersandbeer and you’ll get put in the drawing for several hundred dollars worth of gift cards.
Last year’s winner, Village Deli, is being challenged by Augustino’s, The Boll Weevil, French Market Grille West, Edgar’s Grille, Grumpy’s Sports Pub, Fat Man’s, Mellow Mushroom, Hive Kitchen & Bar, T-Bonz, Carolina Ale House, Wild Wing Cafe, Willie Jewell’s Bar-B-Q and Fuse.
Start fasting now.
Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3352 or firstname.lastname@example.org.