Originally created 10/02/00

Augusta appeal is growing



Many people live in the Augusta area because their employers transferred them here.

Others were born here and simply decided to stay.

Some people, because of some series of events in their lives, just ended up here.

But not Allan and Joyce Levene. They came to Augusta by choice.

The couple could have moved anywhere two years ago when they decided to leave Atlanta and all its frenzy behind. They chose Augusta for its size, location, affordability and what they call its enormous potential.

The fact they could drive from one end of town to the other in less than a half hour didn't hurt, either.

"I continually bring up the point that a lot of people in Atlanta hate it, not because of the way it was, but because of the way it is," said Mr. Levene, an owner of a computer networking firm. "There are well-educated, high money-earning individuals who would love to leave."

Nationally, many entrepreneurs, businesspeople and even major corporations are fleeing large cities for smaller markets. During the early the 1990s, the double-digit growth in major U.S. cities began to slow.

More than two-thirds of the nation's non-metropolitan counties gained population, with much of the growth coming from outsiders moving from urban areas, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Major metro areas such as Atlanta and Charlotte, N.C., are still the undisputed centers of commerce, but they don't hold the allure they once had. In fact, most respondents to a recent Area Development magazine site-selection survey said quality-of-life issues were "as important" or "more important" than factors such as labor costs and highway access.

Local business leaders, who lament that Augusta has lost most major homegrown businesses to other markets, are optimistic the city can net new business by marketing its small-city attributes.

In fact, the city's main economic development agency is actively trying to lure entrepreneurs, professionals and start-up companies away from major cities in the Southeast.

"We are targeting companies with an Atlanta address right now," said Mim West, president of the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce. "We're trying to cut others off at the pass before they make a decision to locate there."

Mr. Levene, a native of England who lived in Atlanta from 1982 to 1998, said he believes Augusta's only major drawback is its leadership, or lack thereof.

"I'm not very fond of the political infrastructure here," he said. "It's more of the inept level, the corrupt level."

Still, the Evans resident decided to relocate here because the market held plenty of business opportunity for his firm, Network Consultants, and his wife's chiropractic business in rural Thomson.

Technology companies are prime for relocation to smaller markets. Technology itself has made it possible to work away from existing high-tech centers.

"The new economy recognizes no national borders or state borders and breaks down the artificial boundaries of city limits," said Angelos Angelou, principal of Austin, Texas-based Angelou Economic Advisors Inc.

BEST PLACES?

The Augusta-Aiken metro area rarely comes out on top on the various "best places to live" lists that are compiled each year.

In fact, the highest ranking the area received in recent years is a No. 4 in 1999's Places Rated Almanac's "best places to retire" list, thanks to the area's low cost of living and top-notch hospitals.

Augusta-Aiken scored No. 111 on Almanac's overall best places to live list, in front of Athens and Savannah but behind several major cities, including Atlanta, which placed No. 33.

Atlanta held the No. 1 spot in the publication's very first list in 1981.

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3486.