Picking the next director

Development authority’s leadership decision is crucial

Any way you look at it, $940 million is a lot of money.

 

That’s the amount of industrial revenue bonds and bond proposals that the Development Authority of Richmond County approved in a single day Thursday.

The authority’s executive director, Walter Sprouse, considered it a “record” single-day amount for the organization. We’d throw in the word “incredible.”

Development authority bond issues are used as economic development incentives to either attract large companies to a municipality or help an existing company grow. Using the authority as a conduit, the bonds allow companies to seek favorable financing terms and obligate the borrower – rather than the county and its taxpayers – to repay the debt.

The authority approved five bond issues Thursday. The biggest, at $672.5 million, is for an unnamed local business; it’s being identified only as “Project Beam” until the bonds receive final approval from the authority.

Two of the bond issues were for previously announced projects: the $130 million addition of a coffee-roasting facility at Augusta’s Starbucks plant and the $100 million expansion of Doctors Hospital’s emergency room and main hospital buildings.

The other two were a $30 million bond for International Paper to improve its wastewater systems and $8.5 million for a FedEx-affiliated developer to relocate the delivery company’s downtown distribution center to an industrial park near the intersection of Tobacco Road and Mike Padgett Highway.

Such vigorous economic activity was made possible in no small part because of Sprouse’s leadership at the authority, and he should be commended.

That makes the search for his replacement all the more important.

At the same record-breaking bond meeting, the authority approved Sprouse’s retirement, effective at year’s end. So the search is on for someone who not only can keep the authority’s momentum going but definitively propel it toward greater success.

That means finding just the right candidate who not only possesses the savvy to court more conventional brick-and-mortar industries, but also the skill to entice businesses in the Augusta area’s next booming economic sector – cyber.

In a way, cyber-related development is hitting Augusta with the force of water out of a fire hose. The next successful executive director of the development authority will be the one who can successfully wield that hose.

Area officials are still proudly pointing to the Forbes magazine article last April that named Augusta one of the “Seven Cities That Could Become the World’s Cybersecurity Capital.”

Living up to that potential requires the high level of successful leadership we’ve come to expect from the development authority, and we hope the authority finds the right person for the job.

 

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