Originally created 09/06/97

Agency seeking additional $3 million



WASHINGTON - The agency charged with bringing in new jobs to the Augusta-Aiken area in the wake of downsizing at Savannah River Site is asking the U.S. Energy Department for an additional $3 million.

The request, submitted to the department this week by U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood, would compensate the federally funded Savannah River Regional Diversification Initiative for the money it spent to help lure a $435 million tire factory to Aiken County. The Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. plant will employ around 800 workers when fully operational.

The initiative "wasn't planning on spending that money all at one time," said John Stone, a spokesman for Dr. Norwood, R-Ga. "It's certainly justifiable. But at the same time ... if a lack of funds causes them to lose 30 small companies that may have created 20 jobs apiece, that's not good."

Added Dr. Norwood: "The very reason we created SRRDI was to offset the massive job losses when a single large employer is forced to cut back. If we fail to foster truly diversified new jobs through small business, we may be contributing to the creation of the same situation in the future."

The Energy Department formed the initiative in 1993 to help create new jobs to replace some of the thousands lost at SRS following the end of the Cold War. Prior to the Bridgestone announcement last month, the initiative had taken credit for 93 new jobs and the retention of more than 600.

The initiative received $6 million in start-up money from the Energy Department, then went without additional money until last spring, when the department kicked in another $4 million.

The initiative's board of directors voted last month to commit the $3 million to the tire plant. The company will use the money to build a training center and a rail spur on the 500-acre factory site.

Energy Department spokesman Rick Ford said the initiative's request for additional money will be taken up first by agency officials at SRS. They then will forward it, with any changes they may wish to recommend, to the Energy Department's Office of Worker and Community Transition in Washington, Mr. Ford said.

"The decision is made at headquarters," he said.

Fred Davison, an initiative board member and former board chairman, said he is optimistic the Energy Department will come through with the money because the initiative's commitment to Bridgestone was money well spent.

"It is so much in line with what DOE is trying to do," Dr. Davison said. "I hope they'll feel obligated enough to replace it and allow us to keep doing the things we're here to do."