Originally created 12/20/97

New chamber president happy to return to area



The former executive director of the Burke County Development Authority expressed joy Friday at returning to the area as president of the Augusta chamber.

Jim West, who has served as president of the Tri-County Economic Development Corp. in Covington, Ky., for more than 10 years, said he is ready to get to work to attract business and industry to the Augusta region.

"What a great day for me and my family to be in Augusta, Ga.," said Mr. West, who has 25 years of experience in economic development. "We're just tickled to death."

He spoke at a news conference Friday morning at chamber headquarters. Mr. West's wife, the former Connie Prescott, is from Augusta.

He began his career as the first executive director of the Burke County authority in 1972 and later moved to the Columbus, Ga., chamber. He became president of the Tri-County organization when it started in 1987.

Mr. West, a native of Macon, will begin work part time on Jan. 1 but will become a full-time president Feb. 1.

He said he took the president position because the search committee stressed that the chamber wanted to focus on economic development.

"That's something I understand," he said.

Another reason is because it was a chance to get back to the Augusta area.

"I've been waiting for this opportunity to come to Augusta, Ga., for a long time," he said. "We knew where we were going."

Mr. West said he sees a bright future for Augusta in its potential for economic development.

"It's a very marketable name out there in the world that I think we can take advantage of," he said.

But he stressed that the marketing will be regional and will include South Carolina as well as Georgia counties.

"Companies look at regions, not communities," he said, adding that he will work toward "anything to help this region to be more profitable."

Mr. West complimented air service in Augusta, saying many Georgia communities have lost all jet service.

The Metro Augusta Chamber of Commerce had been without a president since Al Hodge resigned in April.

For most of this year, the chamber has been in disarray as Columbia and Richmond counties questioned longtime contracts with the chamber for economic development services.

On Friday, there was harmony.

"We as a community have pulled together to present a united front," said Pat Blanchard, outgoing chairman of the chamber board.

He said the three counties served by the chamber -- Richmond, Columbia and Burke -- agreed to have their own economic development people but work together for regional economic development.

The incoming chamber chairman and contract negotiator, Marshall Brown, said after the news conference that development authorities of Richmond and Columbia counties have agreed that their old contracts will remain in place for 90 days.

"It's just a matter of setting down" and getting the contracts officially signed to extend them longer, he said.

Mr. West admitted that he felt uneasy for a time about coming to work in Augusta. He had been talking with the chamber since October, but was concerned about disunity among the economic development partners in the area.

"I knew all along that if we could reach that point, get that issue resolved, I'm gone," he said.