Originally created 02/14/01

Survey finds area benefits for business



A national business publication recently ranked the Augusta-Aiken area 13th out of the more than 330 cities for businesses to relocate to and expand.

The announcement, which came in Expansion Management magazine's January issue, might assist the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce in attracting businesses during the local leg of this year's Red Carpet Tour.

The statewide tour is designed to attract businesses to Georgia. The Augusta leg will take place during Masters Week.

The magazine based its rankings on a survey of site-selection consultants, who considered an area's business environment, work-force quality, operating costs, incentive programs, worker-training programs and ease of working with local officials.

"(The survey is) something we'll definitely use," said Kevin Shea, senior vice president of economic development for the chamber. "We've tried to cultivate these consultants because they have more than just one project. We want to make sure they're aware of Augusta when it comes time to make recommendations."

The magazine's survey might help to boost the area, which has experienced a recent exodus of manufacturers.

Closures this year include that of Globe Business Furniture's wooden table plant in Waynesboro, International Paper's Washington lumber mill, Rock-Tenn's Augusta paperboard packaging plant and Bill's Dollar Store's warehouse-distribution center in south Richmond County.

"Those are examples of businesses affected by a national climate, not by doing business in Augusta," Mr. Shea said. "Those are negative things impacting us, but they're partly due to the national economy and partly due to their particular segments of business."

According to a study by ING Financial Services, however, Augusta ranks as one of the worst of the nation's 125 largest cities in which to earn and save money.

Augusta's 2001 ranking is 97, down from 94 last year. Atlanta ranks 26, down from 17 in 2000.

The study uses data such as average household income, job quality, cost of living, unemployment, housing costs and crime level to determine the best cities to support a high-quality lifestyle.

The area's primary weaknesses are: 107th for high unemployment (4.9 percent); 106th for low participation in retirement savings programs (53 percent of households); 105th for low educational attainment (12.6 years of education per person over age 25); and 102nd for low wealth.

"That points out issues we know we need to work on, such as education," Mr. Shea said. " But it's a long-term issue. It's a social issue - not an overnight fix."

Reach John Bankston at (706) 823-3352 or jbanks15@hotmail.com.