Originally created 06/20/03

New jobs may be coming

Two months after visiting executives toured the area during Masters Week, business leaders say they have solid leads from companies looking to add new facilities and jobs to the area.

After recent years of having to woo prospects in a down economy and with no major announcements being made for new companies, the renewed interest is encouraging to officials.

"What we're seeing is a lot more confidence in the business plans and what people are wanting to do in their expansion plans," Walter Sprouse reported Thursday to the Richmond County Development Authority.

Mr. Sprouse, the authority's executive director, said representatives from two life sciences companies have visited the city this week. He also met with a manufacturing company Wednesday that is beginning to bank on the economy improving.

"They're saying that this time last year, they really did not have plans to do anything," he said. "Now, they're working with another business partner and they have a positive outlook. Hopefully, they'll be able to make a decision - they're saying - by the end of the year."

The identity of visiting companies is closely guarded - development authority members sometimes do not even know the names - until an opening announcement is imminent.

Authority members will say that activity is noticeably picking up.

Mr. Sprouse said that right now he is pursuing 21 projects for companies that have expressed some interest in Augusta.

"That's as many as we were working between October of 2001 and December of 2002," he said.

Local businesswoman Charlene Sizemore, who served as this year's chairwoman for the Red Carpet Tour, said the statewide program during Masters Week resulted in five "legitimate" prospects looking at sites in Georgia - with two companies focusing on Augusta.

"That's the first time in five years we've had such solid prospects," she said.

Meanwhile, organizers for the Augusta Showcase, which also invited 40 corporate guests to tour the city during Masters Week, have made follow-up calls that could lead to new business.

"I talked to (General Manager) Linda Hardin from the Augusta Mall, and some of the prospects - at least two of those - that were on the tour that are interested," said Phil Wahl, this year's showcase chairman. "One's a little bit longer term, one seems like it's going to be an announcement soon."

This year the showcase effort expanded its focus to include retail and airline companies as well as biomedical firms that were targeted during recent showcase tours.

Reach Vicky Eckenrode at (706) 823-3227 or vicky.eckenrode@augustachronicle.com.


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