Originally created 01/08/01

2001 predictions have high, low points



Nobody knows exactly what 2001 has in store for local business, but here are a few things likely to occur:

A slowing economy: Economic forecasters at the University of Georgia predict Augusta's growth will slow with the rest of the nation. Job growth, the hallmark of a healthy economy, will slow to 1.9 percent this year, compared to 2.4 percent in 2000.

Columbia County retail growth: Area officials and business leaders have said the next major shopping center will be built in Columbia County, which boasts the area's fastest population growth, highest income and most developable land. A new large-scale retail development, with Wal-Mart as the anchor tenant, is already proposed in the Evans area. More might be on the way now that the mammoth Augusta Exchange shopping center is nearly built out.

Establishment of a bio-technology district: Among the first initiatives on the Georgia Medical Center Authority's agenda will be the creation of a biotechnology district in Augusta.

The high-tech medical park would serve as ground zero for the medical entrepreneurs and start-up companies the authority hopes to attract.

Local officials will also be armed with the results of a Deloitte & Touche LLP study outlining how Augusta-Aiken should attract pharmaceutical companies.

More retail in south Augusta: Despite the closing of the year-old Winn-Dixie supermarket on Tobacco Road, south Augusta might see new commercial development in coming months.

Walgreen Co., which has already obtained land for a drug store near the intersection of Windsor Spring and Peach Orchard roads, is scouting property elsewhere in the sector in order to compete with the Eckerd and CVS stores already there.

Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse will open its $15 million facility in the Orchard Square shopping center. Commercial real estate professionals say that wherever a Lowe's is built, a Home Depot is sure to follow.

Discussions on incentives: Georgia's loss of the VF Corp. distribution center project to South Carolina because of tax incentives could be the final straw for economic development officials in the Peach State.

Influential state Sen. Charles Walker, now head of the Development Authority of Richmond County, could make incentives an issue this year. Georgia has put off boosting its tax-incentives program because metro Atlanta - where the state's political power is concentrated - rarely competes with other states for new industry.

Increased marketing of Augusta Corporate Park: With the Forward Augusta Industrial Park in the hands of a private owner, Richmond County economic development officials will focus all marketing efforts on the larger Augusta Corporate Park property.

Last year officials approved the extension of utilities and a roadway into the undeveloped, 1,730-acre parcel located off Georgia Highway 56 near the Burke County line.

Conversion of Keebler to Kellogg: Augusta's Murray Biscuit Co. will change hands for the fifth time in its 60-year history when Kellogg Co. acquires Keebler Foods Co. during the first quarter. Keebler has owned the Augusta bakery since 1998 and is currently building an $11 million multi-level storage and distribution facility.

Creation of Horizon North Industrial Park: Expect to see more talk on the establishment of Horizon North Industrial Park, a 260-acre parcel off Chamblin Road at Interstate 20 being proposed as a joint venture between Columbia County and private developers. The county is in need of more land for heavy industry as its Horizon South Industrial Park is essentially full.

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3486 or bized@augustachronicle.com.