Economic developers took the first public step Tuesday to forming an independent regional group that will market the metro area to outside industries and businesses.
The Columbia County Development Authority agreed to shift its budget for economic development to an emerging Augusta Regional Partnership that will include representatives from Burke, Columbia and Richmond counties.
Establishing a new agency for economic development has been discussed for more than a year. The premise behind the partnership is to create an autonomous body with its own bylaws and budget to offer a more formal accountability and transparency to the economic development process.
As it stands now, the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce collects money from all three counties to oversee area development efforts, but in the past some developers have said their county wasn't getting a fair shake.
The new 18-member board, which already has been incorporated as a nonprofit and is expected to roll out in about a month, is being set up to ensure equal representation from each county involved. Because of different tax laws in South Carolina, Aiken and Edgefield counties won't join the partnership.
Either Bill Coleman, the chairman of the Columbia County Development Authority, will sit on the partnership board or the development body will select another representative from its board members. The same is likely for Mr. Coleman's counterparts in Richmond and Burke counties, whose boards have yet to formally agree to the changes.
The remainder of the partnership members will come from the private sector.
Aside from the 18 voting members, the three county administrators from Burke, Columbia and Richmond counties will serve as nonvoting members.
The partnership allows the Augusta chamber to shed its role as economic developer and focus strictly on its member services, similar to the setup in Aiken and Edgefield.
Still, chamber President Ed Presnell, the interim director of the fledgling partnership, will lead the new body in the beginning.
"Today's move in Columbia County is just the flipping over of contract we had with them into a new structure," Mr. Presnell said. "Other than that it's business as usual."
Money from development authorities in the three counties up until now went to the chamber's Forward Together fund, which will eventually morph into the partnership.
"It's the same contract, except a little more beefed up," said Mr. Coleman, explaining that the money Columbia County gave to the chamber to cover various expenses will now go to the partnership.
"Beefed up" means things such as a little more money for the county's executive director, Zack Daffin, to hire a full-time assistant.
The three counties together contribute $323,000 to economic development, while the rest of the $900,000 yearly budget is covered by private sector contributions.
Reach Vicky Eckenrode at (706) 868-1222, ext. 115, or Matthew Mogul at (706) 823-3352.