Since 2008, Augusta has appeared in 20 national rankings, receiving high marks for being the “most resilient metro economy,” providing its residents with the “best bang for their buck” and having one of the “strongest building markets for housing.”
Local business recruiters refer to the accolades as the city’s “bragging points” in luring major industry to set up shop in Augusta.
But with publications and industry think tanks keeping no record or traceable origin of their rating systems, some question whether these lists carry any weight.
According to state economic developers and business executives, market research studies by Forbes, Business Week and the Brookings Institute have little influence in company site selection. Professionals say it’s the information the reports provide that holds great importance, all of which is public record and readily available through the federal government.
“For us, the decision to move to Augusta was influenced by observations we made in our own research,” said Andrew Ross, the president of Rockwood Performance Additives, which has not yet started construction of its $115 million plant that will bring 80 to 100 jobs to the area. “I can’t say we looked at any national surveys.”
While scouting Augusta in 2011, Ross said, Rockwood looked at the city’s job-skill market, the relationship Richmond County has with its industrial base and the strength of the area’s infrastructure and manufacturing community before making its decision.
Each quality received high scores, which according to Forbes, Business Week and The Brookings Institute is not by mistake.
Most of the categories are at the core of the research the three conduct for their rankings. Though each has its own methodology, all depend on three key indicators – job growth, gross metropolitan product and home price index – and a law of averages to reach its findings. Data for the reports is taken from the Census and Labor Statistics bureaus, Federal Housing Finance Agency and U.S. Office of Management and Budget, and overall are a major help in “telling the world who Augusta is,” said Walter Sprouse, the executive director of the city’s Economic Development Authority.
“When it comes down to brass tacks, the things that sell Augusta is what we call the ‘business specifics’ that a company must have to be profitable – infrastructure, utility rates, workforce training – and these lists draw attention to those qualities,” Sprouse said.
He said his organization often references Augusta’s rankings in its marketing materials, during presentations and online, primarily when companies are in the thick of selecting a site to grow or expand.
Last year, the city, which typically tries to lure one of the 30 prospects it targets annually, persuaded four companies to choose Augusta, including Starbucks, which in July broke ground on a $172 million manufacturing plant that will house
140 new employees, Sprouse said.
“Our job is to get in front of these site selection committees, and it’s not real economical to do it by getting in the car and driving around a four-state region to find potential clients,” Sprouse said. “We live in a digital age and we need to accept that.”
The Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce has embraced the power of the Internet, listing on its Web site almost all of the top rankings Augusta has received in the past five years. President Sue Parr calls the ratings “bragging points.”
Parr said the “more national the publication, the more recognition Augusta receives,” and likely so. Business Week, Forbes and U.S. News and World Report are known as the leading information source for business leaders, reaching more than 3 million executives daily, according to records.
But what the publications lack in their research is keeping records on their rankings.
Vanessa Wong, a spokeswoman for Bloomberg Business Week, the publication that has rated Augusta most, said the magazine does not “keep a count of all the rankings we do,” nor does it keep a running history of the studies it has performed to analyze the economic impact of the lists.
“A ranking can highlight areas in the country where certain businesses may find opportunities,” Wong said. “They are done to provide a snapshot of the state of local economies.”
Last week, Starbucks would not say whether it consulted national rankings when considering Augusta. The coffee giant would only verify that it reviews “many factors,” an assessment Alison Tyrer, the director of communications for the Georgia Department of Economic Development, said is accurate.
“Rankings have a varying degree on interest in the business community,” Tyrer said. “Depending on a company’s priorities, it can play a large role in the site selection process for some businesses or in other cases, have a very small influence.”
Tyrer stressed that does not mean the rankings are not credible, scientific or valid.