Originally created 07/21/02

Counties should present a united front



Almost 30 years ago, there was an initiative to build a regional airport halfway between Augusta and Columbia.

The airport, had it been built, would have been about a half-hour drive from most parts of Augusta. With more than 1 million residents in its geographic area, the facility probably would have been served by several major carriers, with competitive fares. And it most likely would have helped the Augusta metro area attract new industry.

In other words, the regional airport could have been the solution for many of the woes faced by the city today.

Building such a facility would have been a Herculean exercise in intergovernmental cooperation and coordination, which is obviously why the project never got off the ground.

Every now and then, I'll hear a longtime resident or a business leader talk about the plan, usually as they lament the inability to "get things done" around here.

Consider what's happening on the economic-development front. We've gone from talking about how to improve cooperation between the two states to whether Richmond and Columbia counties should sever their ties to the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce.

It's no secret some business leaders and politicos are upset with the Augusta Metro Chamber, the organization that Richmond, Columbia and Burke counties hire each year to attract new industry.

The organization's effectiveness and its representation of stakeholders has been under scrutiny for months.

Richmond County is withholding its funding while officials discuss creating an in-house economic development department. A handful of Columbia County leaders, apparently still holding a grudge from the Titleist debacle, are fanning the flames of secession. Burke County officials are waiting on the sidelines to see whether they should take their ball and go home.

Many of the complaints levied against the Augusta Metro Chamber are valid, and they are being addressed by its executive committee and its interim leader, Ed Presnell.

The economic development half of the Augusta Metro Chamber likely will be spun off into a stand-alone economic development organization that, theoretically, the three counties would want to be a part of.

I hope that is indeed what happens.

All three counties must be on board for this community to effectively market itself to the outside world.

Had Augusta and Columbia been on the same page 30 years ago, we would have a pretty nice airport right now.

If the counties that make up the Augusta area can't find a way to cooperate, what will be taking place about 30 years from now?

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