Scuttlebiz: Augusta economy moves past ‘vision problems’

For years, the local business community had the not-so-subtle attitude that metro Augusta was being held back by the myopic leadership of its elected officials. Augusta could be so much more, the consensus seemed to be, if its leaders just had a little more vision.

 

If that attitude still exists – and it likely does – I would be willing to argue it is much less prevalent than it used to be. From my perspective, economic progress is occurring regardless of shortcomings at the local government level.

It’s almost as if economic gale force winds – driven in part by the expansion of Augusta University and the growing cyber missions at Fort Gordon – are blowing over, around and straight through whatever petty political controversies exist in the communities that make up this metro area of more than a half-million people.

Someone say “tsunami?”

Look at the big picture: Job growth is trending up, unemployment is trending down and all corners of the metro area are growing again – not just the suburbs. People moving to the area don’t care so much about how the community “was” or “is,” but what it could “be.”

I realize I’m painting with a fairly broad brush here. In fairness, there are plenty of examples where metro area leaders are actively clearing the path for economic growth. At the ground breaking ceremony for The Plaza at Evans Towne Center just last week, the developer, Meybohm Realtors, acknowledged it was Columbia County officials who provided the inspiration for the 300,000-square-foot mixed-use development, which aims to transform 26-acres of county-owned property in the heart of Evans into a “downtown.”

“When we first looked at it, our initial thought was we could just buy one small piece of property and develop a building for our agents and our staff,” Meybohm President Mike Polatty said. “We talked to county officials and learned real quick they had a vision for the site that was bigger than one building. It was a vision for a downtown, something that could redefine the area for Columbia County.”

Is it nice to see a local officials thinking outside of the box? Absolutely.

Would it be nice if more of them would do it? Absolutely.

Would it be fan-flippin-tastic to see short-sighted officials get blown away by the winds of progress? Ab. So. Lutely.

BUILT TO LAST: Just a stone’s throw from the The Plaza complex in Evans is the offices of Columbia County’s largest homebuilder, Ivey Homes, which will close on its 1,000th new home by the end of this month.

The company plans to celebrate the achievement in May at Evans Towne Center Park, so check your inboxes and mailboxes for details in the coming days.

Oh, and the company also has been named by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency as one of the 152 Energy Star 2017 Partner of the Year–Sustained Excellence Award winners.

THE WHOLE ENCHILADA, ER, SANDWICH: It’s not uncommon for companies to donate the profits from a one-day sale to a charitable organization. But to donate the entire day’s sale, that’s rarer than a conservative choreographer.

But sandwich chain Jersey Mike’s Subs did just that March 29, when it raised $5.5 million for more than 150 nonprofit organizations nationwide – including $24,184 in metro Augusta for the Southeastern Firefighters Burn Foundation.

SO LONG AS NOBODY GETS HURT: Health care is a big industry in any town. But it’s especially big here in metro Augusta, which has five general hospitals (soon to be four if the proposed University Hospital-Trinity Hospital merger closes this summer), a veterans hospital, an active-duty military hospital, a children’s hospital, a rehabilitation hospital, a specialty hospital and several in-patient treatment facilities.

This past week the two biggest local hospital operators, Augusta University Health and University Health Care System, released their annual economic impact figures as calculated by the Georgia Hospital Association based on a combination of direct expenses and a “multiplier” that estimates how those dollars turn over in the community.

AU Health said its AU Medical Center in Augusta and its Roosevelt Warm Springs Rehabilitation and Specialty Hospitals, which it operates through a partnership with the state, injected nearly $1.4 billion into the economy in 2015 through direct expenditures of $600 million, uncompensated care of $52 million and total employment of 9,576 full-time jobs statewide.

University Health Care System, which operates University Hospital in Augusta and University Hospital McDuffie in Thomson, Ga., generated more than $955 million for the local and state economy based on direct expenditures of $415 million, uncompensated care of $34 million and total full-time employment exceeding more than 6,000 full-time jobs.

The market’s third largest hospital, Doctors Hospital, did not release its 2015 economic impact.

 

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3352 or damon.cline@augustachronicle.com.

 

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