The biggest obstacle to economic development in Augusta is poor leadership within local government, according to a survey of area business leaders.
Nearly half of the 217 business owners who responded to the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce survey cited poor community leadership and bickering politicians as the greatest detriment to the local economy.
"I deal with a lot of people who are from out of town in my business - I hear a lot from outside the community," said Karen Chrjapin, an Augusta franchisee for PostNet postal and business service. "They seem to think Augusta is still fighting the Civil War. We want to move past that, but our government leadership doesn't seem to want to."
The chamber distributed surveys to 1,800 member businesses in November. A question that asked participants what they believed were barriers to economic growth was open-ended, inviting any response.
Responses included, "lack of unified community leadership," "fragmented government," "lack of vision by government officials," "ineffective leadership," "poor race relations" and "unstable political environment."
"These are things that businesses look at when they get down to the short list of where they want to go," said chamber spokeswoman Elizabeth Guilfoyle-Wehman, who organized the survey. "If there are perceived problems with local government, it doesn't exactly create a welcoming environment for incoming businesses."
Other economic development obstacles listed by chamber members include poor airline service, a poor educational system, lack of an educated or qualified work force and lack of incentives to attract new industry.
Mayor Bob Young said perhaps there's also a lack of leadership within the business community.
"Get leadership out of the board room and into the community," he said. "I think without identifiable and supportive business leadership, it's difficult for government leaders to provide a pivotal role in effecting change or advancing projects."
The mayor said Augusta's government should be business friendly and that relationships between business and government could always improve, but apathetic business leaders are at least partly to blame for Augusta's economic challenges.
"(Some business leaders) complain about things but don't stand up and run for office. When we have public projects, you don't see people stepping forward to take community leadership positions."
Chamber President Jim West said the city's business community should fill leadership voids.
"They should not elect people and then expect them to carry the whole burden," Mr. West said. "Business leaders should shoulder a large part of the creation of infrastructure that accommodates business development."
Reach John Bankston at (706) 823-3352 or firstname.lastname@example.org.