Originally created 01/01/00

Leaders predict growth in 2000



Community leaders in Richmond, Aiken, Columbia and Edgefield counties were asked to give their predictions for 2000. Here is what they see in Augusta's future:

RICHMOND COUNTY

Sen. Charles Walker, D-Augusta

Mr. Walker predicts economic growth for Augusta and expects 2000 to bring more health-related businesses to the Garden City with the development of Augusta Medical Research Park.

"Augusta as a community will be recognized both economically and politically as a major player," he said.

Mr. Walker also predicts population gains.

"There will be a phenomenal growth for population because urban sprawl will force industry to recognize second-tier cities like Augusta and Savannah," he said. "Augusta is the second-most potent area in Georgia."

Mr. Walker said he hopes businesses in Augusta will "step up to the plate" and take more initiative in the community in 2000.

Bob Young, Augusta mayor

Mr. Young predicts a revitalization for the Augusta area.

He anticipates Augusta will have an extensive neighborhood-improvement plan by spring.

He also said he hopes the new year brings forth a developer to help begin the transformation of Regency Mall to Rocky Creek, a city-like complex complete with office space, roads and family recreation.

Mr. Young's most optimistic prediction involves water supply during the summer months.

"Next summer there will be adequate storage and distribution of water," he said.

Mr. Young said he wished more young people and women would get involved in local politics. "They should take a little bit more understanding in their government."

Francis J. Tedesco, President of the Medical College of Georgia

Dr. Tedesco predicts astounding changes and opportunities in the area, adding that medical research in Augusta could be enormous in both economic and scientific terms.

"There are tremendous opportunities to create a new industry through biotech not only with the medical college, but also with medication and telecommunications at Fort Gordon," he said.

Dr. Tedesco hopes the area's intellectual capacity will be fully utilized to capitalize on the potential of Augusta.

James E. West Jr., President and CEO of the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce

Mr. West predicts a political and economical renaissance for Augusta. He expects Augusta to see job growth, more retail downtown and a heightened awareness for cultural arts.

"Augusta used to be a powerful economic and political force in the community, and over time it has lost of that base," Mr. West said. "We are poised and ready to come back on our own."

Mr. West predicts that corporations will be ready to invest money in a growing Augusta. "Once the dust settles after Y2K, corporate America is ready to spend money on expansion projects, and we are the chosen ones in the state of Georgia."

According to Mr. West, economic growth will come from projects such as the Delta Air Preservation Center and SITEL, which is slated to create nearly 500 new jobs in Augusta.

"Labor and operation costs have forced projects to go to midsize cities," Mr. West said. "Fifteen years ago, those projects would not be in Augusta."

Shirley A.R. Lewis, President of Paine College:

Dr. Lewis predicts many advancements in higher education and expects increased harmony and good relations with area residents and businesses.

"This is something that will come through partnership in the workplace, community and social circles where we will be able to function as equals," she said.

Dr. Lewis predicts access to higher education will increase through more scholarships and financial aid.

She cautions people to use growing technology ethically. She cited abuses on the Internet, pornography, cloning and scams.

In Paine's future, Dr. Lewis predicts raising $4.5 million to help build a new gymnasium. She also predicts students at Paine will be able to register for classes online, and communicate with partner schools.

AIKEN/EDGEFIELD COUNTIES

Ronnie Young, Aiken County Council chairman

Mr. Young said the county will maintain its fiscal prosperity.

"We will continue to maintain a very positive balance for our operating funds and guard the county's high credit rating, which allows us to get a very favorable interest rate," he said. "We have over $10,000 in reserve funds and the county is in the best financial shape it has been for over 10 years."

He added that the economic prospects for the county are good and there won't be a need to include a tax increase in the 2000/2001 budget.

"We will be able to add at least 600 jobs in the county in 2000, and some of them will be announced in the very near future," he said. "To ensure continued economic development, we're about to begin construction of a primary water line from North Augusta to Sage Mill Industrial Park. Later in the year, we'll begin construction of a backup water line from Edgefield County to Sage Mill, which will complete our infrastructure needs in the park.

"We've got plenty of room for expansion in the park and we expect it to continue to grow during the coming year."

Lisa McElmurray Thomas, Executive director of the North Augusta Chamber of Commerce

Mrs. Thomas predicts big things for North Augusta 2000 Inc., a nonprofit corporation formed in 1999 as a strategic planning task force.

"North Augusta 2000 envisions that by 2005, North Augusta will be a prominent riverfront community whose past has been carefully preserved and whose future is vested in its citizens, young and old," she said. "Safe streets, beautiful parks, abundant recreational opportunities, exciting cultural and performing arts programs, an active spiritual community and exceptional educational system will entice our young people to stay in our community, start a career and raise a family.

"Known as the entrance to South Carolina and a city where all are welcome, North Augusta will continue to attract visitors, new residents and a growing retirement community."

Fred Humes, Director of the Economic Development Partnership

Mr. Humes predicts that the U.S. economy in 2000 will grow approximately 3 percent and the Pacific Rim will continue its recovery and add capacity to the manufacturing base with a resultant slight decrease in the number of large, new plants built in the Southeast and in our area.

"The number of small manufacturing plants (150-175 employees) will continue to grow in our area as the economy expands," he said. "Existing industries, especially the larger ones in Aiken and Edgefield counties, will see increased demand for their products and will announce expansion plans. The new industrial park in Edgefield County will have two tenants by the end of the year.

"The (Department of Energy/Savannah River Site) budget and funding will be decreased, putting pressure on employment levels. The Surplus Plutonium Program (MOX fuels) will make a modest beginning with an agreement between Russia and the U.S. for MOX fuel levels."

Linda Eldridge, Aiken County School superintendent

Dr. Eldridge predicts that school systems, local and state, will see many new programs and facilities.

"The year 2000 will find Aiken County schools in a building mode. The state School Facilities Bond Act for school-building needs will provide $28 million for new schools and renovations to older buildings during the next three years," she said. "We will see more emphasis on programs of choice within the public school system, such as the Aiken County Career Center, the Freedman and Pinecrest centers, the Academy of Finance at Aiken High School and the proposed International Baccalaureate programs at Aiken High and North Augusta High schools.

"We currently have some 1,200 students attending schools other than the ones in their attendance zones due to special requests and student need."

She also expects growth in the district's Alternative Programs for students unable to succeed in a less-structured environment.

"Students involved in violence, weapons and/or drugs will continue to be expelled from the Aiken County public schools," Dr. Eldridge said. "Students and teachers will be protected as they go about the business of education. Our focus will continue to be maintaining the safety of our schools.

"In addition to school resource officers and safety monitors, we will have increased momentum for programs such as Character First and Peer Medication as we seek ways to provide a safe, nonthreatening environment in our schools."

Wayne Adams, Edgefield County administrator

Mr. Adams expects a big year in Edgefield County, marked by continued growth.

"Next year should be a breakthrough year for Edgefield County. Significant groundwork has begun on land-use planning and a county-sponsored industrial park," he said. "It is inevitable that the Augusta metropolitan area will continue extending itself into southern Edgefield County. If we are diligent in our planning, the pressures of growth won't destroy the suburban lifestyle we have all come to enjoy.

"If we are smart, we will capture enough growth to sustain a tax base that provides good law enforcement and public schools while also preserving the rural landscape."

Mr. Adams said Edgefield County's new industrial park will be completed by year's end, and at least one tenant will call the park home in 2000.

COLUMBIA COUNTY

Clay Whittle, Columbia County sheriff

Construction of the new detention-center addition will take place in 2000, but completion is not scheduled until June 2001, Sheriff Whittle said.

Although the county will be building a larger jail, Sheriff Whittle expects to see a small decrease in the crime rate this year.

"I would hope that we would see the crime rate decline, and I would think we will see a small decline next year in our crime rates, but at some time there will be a leveling-off period," he said.

The sheriff's department will closely watch the county's growth, as many funding laws are tied to reaching a population of 100,000.

"It's going to be real interesting to see what our population is -- I think it's going to be close to 100,000 and that will affect a lot of things in Columbia County, from funding to the way some laws are applied in our county."

Linda Crowell, Columbia County Development Authority member and Realtor

Mrs. Crowell predicts continued growth for Columbia County.

"One of the challenges we face as a county is to continue with our economic growth, and that will entail some long-range planning in that area," she said. "The development authority has a subcommittee that is studying that right now and hopefully that will come to be very soon. Columbia County can't afford to bury its head in the sand and not continue with economic growth, that's the key. If you don't move forward, you stagnate."

That could mean a new industrial park for Columbia County in the near future, Mrs. Crowell said.

"In order to grow we have to have land available for new industry when they are looking for land," she said. "If you don't have something in the works, they pass you by, or they'll go look at another county or another state. That's one of the reasons John Deere came here, that's one of the reasons they are expanding.

"Columbia County has been very careful with the growth. They have picked only clean industries, and that is our goal to continue in that area."

Frank Mullins, Land developer

Mr. Mullins expects explosive growth in Evans in the coming year.

"We've built such a good residential base there that businesses can come in and there's enough people for these businesses to thrive," he said. "I think we're going to see restaurants, lots more shopping. The county seems to have a good handle on it and they will allow it to happen in a controlled fashion. I'm excited. I think Evans might be the part of Augusta that so far hasn't happened."

Mr. Mullins, who owns 123 acres along Washington Road in Evans, said development will begin on his property in 2000. It is expected to change the face of Washington Road.

"I think Augusta is ready, or close to ready, for a second mall, or something of that order -- maybe like the Target center -- and Evans is the logical and only place to do it in."

Steve Szablewski, Columbia County administrator

Mr. Szablewski sees 2000 as a year for planning. Local officials will be working on a Capital Improvements Plan and a Growth Management Plan.

"Both of these will set priorities and direction for us for the next five years or more," he said.

The Capital Improvements Plan will guide the county's spending in the coming years. The one-cent local option sales tax going to voters in 2000 is important, Mr. Szablewski said.

Revision to the county's Growth Management Plan -- a guide used to evaluate new development -- started in December with a public meeting. Officials are focusing on four areas during the revision process: Martinez/Evans, Leah/Clarks Hill Lake, Appling and Harlem/Grovetown.

Kendal Jones, Columbia County Planning and Zoning director

Mrs. Jones said residents should continue to see large-scale growth, especially westward along Washington and Columbia roads.

And though the county has seen mostly residential growth in the past decade, more diverse development is beginning to occur.

"I think we are going to see a good mix of services, and commercial activities and industry as well as different types of residential development," she said.

Aside from revising the Growth Management and Capital Improvements plans, officials also will continue work on the expansion of the county jail, and begin building a courthouse annex in Evans, Mrs. Jones said.