One of Augusta's business recruiting tools is getting a makeover.
The OneGeorgia fund, which uses tobacco settlement money to spur economic development, is shifting more toward rural development and two weeks ago changed the rules under which Richmond and Columbia counties get funding.
Starting Jan. 1, the two counties will be considered "conditionally eligible" for funds, meaning that both will have to prove that their projects will have a direct impact on surrounding rural counties.
"We're trying to promote regionalism, and what better way to do that than to tie it to funds," said Nancy Cobb, OneGeorgia's executive director.
The plan will force both counties to work more closely with economic developers in Burke, McDuffie, Wilkes and other rural counties.
For Richmond County, the change means more paperwork but doesn't change the industrial recruiting strategy.
"We will still be able to apply for OneGeorgia funds in the future," said Walter Sprouse, the executive director of the development authority for Richmond County. "But we will have to go about 10 more steps to prove that the projects will impact the rural counties adjacent to us."
In recent months, the Richmond County authority has secured OneGeorgia funds to help develop the Augusta Auto Auction and a FedEx Ground distribution center.
For Columbia County, which was ineligible for OneGeorgia funds because of its high per-capita income, the change could have a huge impact.
"What's good for any one of our communities in our region is good for the whole," said Zack Daffin, the executive director for the Columbia County Development Authority.
Under current rules, OneGeorgia uses the Department of Community Affairs tier system to determine which counties qualify for funding. The four-tier system ranks counties based on per capita income, unemployment rates and poverty rates. Tier 4 is the best and Tier 1 the worst.
Counties ranked Tier 1 or Tier 2 are eligible for OneGeorgia funds. Of the 13 counties in the region, all are Tier 1 except for Columbia County, which is a Tier 4.
Under the new rules, counties with a population of 50,000 or less and a poverty rate of 10 percent or greater are eligible. Counties that border eligible counties, which would include Richmond and Columbia counties, are classified as conditionally eligible.
Ms. Cobb said that for conditionally eligible counties to get funding, they will have to apply through a regional development authority.
Both Richmond and Columbia counties are members of the 13-county CSRA Unified Development Authority.
Andy Crosson, the executive director of the CSRA Regional Development Council, which oversees the Unified Development Authority, said neither Richmond nor Columbia county should see a decline in OneGeorgia funding.
"If you look at the traffic patterns, there's a lot of people that commute into Richmond County to work from neighboring counties," he said. "If a company is going to create 100 new jobs, how many people who benefit from those 100 jobs will be from Richmond County and how many from the surrounding areas?"
Reach James Gallagher at (706) 823-3227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.