2017: A year of growth, change for local economy

Cyber center stands out among area’s top business stories

Metro Augusta’s economic upswing continued in 2017.

 

This past week the Georgia Department of Labor announced the Augusta-Aiken area hit its highest-ever employment levels, and the new job creation was evident in most of the year’s biggest business news stories.

Those stories are listed here in chronological order:

State Cyber Innovation Center breaks ground

Augusta’s biggest downtown development project in years got even bigger in 2017.

On Feb. 15, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal authorized $50 million in funding for the Hull-McKnight Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center. The center will prepare professionals to protect the nation from cybersecurity threats.

The center also will house an incubator for startup cybersecurity companies and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s new cybercrime unit.

On Nov. 27, Deal announced an additional $35 million in funding for phase two of the center.

Phase one and phase two are five-story buildings that essentially will be mirror images of each other, connected by a 320-seat auditorium. The buildings will be 167,000 square feet and 165,000 square feet, respectively.

The center site is on a 17-acre riverfront tract once envisioned as the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame and Augusta Botanical Gardens. It fronts Reynolds Street.

The center is aligned with Augusta University’s Cyber Institute and AU’s recently launched School of Computer and Cyber Sciences. The center will anchor AU’s Riverfront Campus.

The campus also will connect with an extension of Augusta’s Riverwalk. The unpaved path known as New Bartram Trail, which runs behind the center site, will be paved and landscaped, and extended about a third of a mile to connect with 13th Street, at the foot of the 13th Street Bridge.

University Hospital buys Trinity Hospital

Metro Augusta’s largest acute-care hospital acquired its smallest, in a deal announced March 30.

Quorum Health Corp. was the majority owner and operator of Trinity, a 231-bed facility. It opened in Augusta in 1952 as St. Joseph Hospital, and had 110 beds.

The acquisition was funded out of University Health Care System’s unrestricted reserve fund, which at the time exceeded $400 million.

New stadium breaks ground

On May 25, North Augusta officials and developers broke ground on Riverside Village, a mixed-use property development on the South Carolina side of the Savannah River.

The development, with a price tag of more than $200 million, was referred to as Project Jackson as it moved toward winning local governmental approval. It will include a hotel/conference center, offices, apartments, single-family housing and retail space.

The project is best known for including SRP Park, the new home for the Augusta GreenJackets, a minor-league baseball affiliate for the San Francisco Giants.

Human resources giant expands

On June 16, ADP – one of Augusta’s major employers – cut the ribbon on a $20 million expansion at its facility off Flowing Wells Road.

The project adds 60,000 square feet of office space and 600 parking spaces. It is serving as the template for similar ADP regional hubs’ expansions across the United States.

In Augusta, ADP employed about 1,300 at the time of the ceremony, with a capacity of 1,700.

ADP, which stands for Automatic Data Processing, helps its business clients manage payroll, hiring and employee benefits. Founded in 1949, ADP serves more than 630,000 customers in more than 100 countries.

Hotel boom

The groundbreaking of a 100-plus-room Hyatt House at 1268 Broad Street downtown June 16 helped mark a spate of local hotel construction.

Construction also started this year on a 100-room Fairfield Inn & Suites near the intersection of Interstate 20 and Washington Road. On. Dec. 14, an 88-room SpringHill Suites officially opened at 1110 Marks Church Road.

Fairfield and SpringHill are imprints under the Marriott brand.

Also opening this year in Augusta was a Homewood Suites by Hilton, on Timbercreek Lane off Gordon Highway.

TaxSlayer heading downtown

On June 22, the Family Y of Greater Augusta sold its downtown location to tax-preparation software company TaxSlayer.

The Y’s administrative offices vacated within 60 days of the sale, but services for the branch’s estimated 1,100 members stayed open until year’s end.

TaxSlayer will still remain in Evans, but is renaming the 94-year-old building its Innovation and Technology Campus, and expects to open it for business in the spring of 2018. The company envisions a more modern workspace to stake a claim in the area’s growing cyber economy.

Starbucks expands

The world’s largest coffee retailer broke ground Nov. 15 in Augusta on a 140,000-square-foot plant expansion expected to bring more than 100 new jobs to the area.

Starbucks opened a soluble coffee plant at Augusta Corporate Park in 2012 to produce its VIA Ready Brew line of instant coffees. The Nov. 15 ceremony marked a $130 million enlargement of the facility’s north side.

Cup plant closing

On Nov. 29, Dart Container Corp. announced it will close the 70-year-old Augusta factory whose familiar exterior looks like a giant cup.

Dart said it would close the Wrightsboro Road plant by early 2019 because of lower demand for the Trophy brand of polystyrene cups it produces. The plant employs 160 people.

The Augusta facility was built by Lily-Tulip Co. in 1947 and changed hands through several food and beverage packaging manufacturers through the years – including Fort Howard Paper Co. and Sweetheart Cup Co. It was purchased by the Solo Cup Co. in 2004.

Dart assumed ownership of the Augusta plant when the company acquired Solo Cup for about $1 billion in 2012.

As Lily-Tulip, the plant marked the biggest addition to Augusta’s manufacturing base in the years after World War II.

White to Chattanooga

The head of the Augusta Convention & Visitors Bureau is leaving to run the tourism agency in Chattanooga, Tenn.

The Augusta CVB on Thursday announced Barry White, its president and CEO for the past 23 years, will leave early next year to head the Chattanooga Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.

White, a Tennessee native who joined the city’s tourism board in 1991, will leave effective Feb. 23 – the 26-year anniversary of his tenure in Augusta, where he started as director of sales.

Plant Vogtle moving forward

Also on Dec. 21, the Georgia Public Service Commission voted to allow Georgia Power Co. and its partners to continue two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle near Waynesboro.

Georgia Power wanted to continue the project but at an increased cost of $12.2 billion and a delay of roughly 29 months to 2021 and 2022 for the reactors to come online, which it had asked the commission to consider reasonable.

The cost of canceling would have been between $730 million and $760 million.

The project had been plagued by delays, and the original contractor, Westinghouse, declared bankruptcy in March.

About 6,000 were employed during the construction with an estimated payroll of $115 million a year, and 800 permanent jobs were to follow upon completion.

 

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