The community we want

As the mayor says, it's up to us to shape a better Augusta

State of the Union addresses, such as we’ll see tonight, have evolved into laundry lists of the country’s needs and shortcomings.

Mayor Deke Copenhaver’s State of the City address, on the other hand, is a great reminder of how good we’ve got it here.

There’s no transcript of it; the mayor has our good points committed to memory, and speaks about them extemporaneously in a series of appearances, starting with the Augusta Exchange Club last Thursday. But the video is available online at http://is.gd/afjPM6.

Certainly Augusta has challenges, particularly with its often bottlenecked, bellicose and
belligerent elected government. The Augusta Commission, for instance, inexplicably turned down the money of a professional management company capable of fixing problems at the money-losing city golf course.

The man introducing Copenhaver’s speech last Thursday even joked that in trying to get biographical information on the mayor, he went to the Augusta Commission – and five commissioners said they’d help, four said they wouldn’t and one wouldn’t give an answer.

Such is the mayor’s lot.

Copenhaver is unbowed.

This mayor is famous and even sometimes upbraided for his audacious optimism, but when it’s based in reality what’s wrong with that? When he says Augusta has weathered tough times unusually well and can look forward to doing even better in the years to come, he may be right.

A strong, stable base of government institutions – Fort Gordon, Georgia Regents University, Savannah River Site and more – helps the region survive economic vagaries better than most. But most of what Copenhaver pointed to in his speech was private-sector progress – including a $172 million, 140-job Starbucks production plant.

He said Starbucks, Rural Sourcing Inc., and Automatic Data Processing are examples of Augusta-area companies that are “onshoring” – bringing jobs here from overseas.

In fact, Copenhaver said he’s speaking to the International Association of Outsourcing Professionals’ World Summit in Phoenix next week about the phenomenon and Augusta’s success capitalizing on it.

One asset he cited, besides the great quality of life and enviable cost of living, is our arts and cultural climate. He said that was a big factor in Starbucks’ decision to locate here.

“Given the climate in the rest of the nation,” he said, “that’s something that I’m extremely proud of – for our city to be getting national recognition for that.”

Nor does it hurt that nearby Plant Vogtle is now construction site of the first two commercial nuclear reactors on American soil in decades.

All of those things individually, Copenhaver says, would be “game changers. And we have all of those things going on at once.”

He duly noted the dysfunctional politics – it seems as if some commissioners are actually against progress – and acknowledged that for the three new commissioners, “I know that it’s an eye-opener for them.” But he predicted the politics would eventually smooth out and “catch up” to the positivity and progress in the wider community.

We hope. If that happens, we’ll take the mayor to Starbucks for his favorite grande.

In the meantime, the mayor is right: It is up to the rest of us to create the kind of community we want.

Our elected officials can always come along if they like.

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Sat, 02/18/2017 - 21:59

Rick McKee Editorial Cartoon