Augusta lacks 'cool factor' for recruits, Azziz says

GHSU President Ricardo Azziz says Augusta needs to cater more to the "brain industry" that researchers appreciate.

It is hampering recruiting to Georgia Health Sciences University and hurting development in the region as a whole -- "the cool factor" -- and Augusta does not quite measure up, GHSU President Ricardo Azziz said.

Speaking Monday to the Rotary Club of Augusta, he once again outlined ambitious plans for growth of the university that he said will benefit Augusta and the region economically. That includes increasing the number of researchers and the amount of grants going into GHSU, which is about $90 million a year now, he said.

"That is pure economic input," Azziz said.

His plan is to, by 2020, increase clinical revenue 3 percent to $159 million more a year, primarily by recruiting patients from outside the region who need specialized care, and by enlarging the research staff by 100 positions and increasing grant funding by $109 million annually.

Those potential research recruits -- many in their 30s to mid-40s -- are looking for a vibrant, creative community, with thriving arts and things to do, he said. In other words, to attract those folks "you need to be cool," Azziz said.

"Health care and biomedical research is a brain industry," he said. "It's an industry that appreciates the arts, the coolness, the quality of life, the mental stimulation. We've got to become cool."

Downtown Augusta, for instance, with some direction and investment could provide that coolness, he said.

Azziz is correct that it is sometimes difficult to get people to come to Augusta, although "we have an extremely high conversion rate once we bring people here," said Barry White, the president and CEO of the Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau. Coolness is a factor in attracting visitors and conventions, he said.

"They want to go where things are happening," he said. "People want to go where people want to be. We've kind of started that, but I think we've got a little ways to go."