The Columbia County Development Authority got good advice last week from some industrial recruiter specialists. Work with Richmond County, don't compete against it, said Betty McIntosh of New Jersey-based Stadtmauer, Bailkin, Biggins LLC.
Of course, it takes two to tango. Richmond County has to step up to the plate, which it has yet to do.
In choosing locations to expand, companies look at "metropolitan statistical areas" which can cover several counties but are most easily identifiable by the area's most prominent community. In this statistical area, which includes Richmond, Columbia, Burke and Aiken counties, that would be Augusta.
"People know Augusta," said McIntosh, "it's a place on the map." Hence, Columbia County benefits by associating itself with Augusta. She urged Columbia County to forge a regional partnership with Richmond County to market the whole area.
She cited the Greenville-Spartanburg partnership in South Carolina. Marketing the two communities as one area enabled her company to lure a large BMW supplier to locate there.
To a large extent, McIntosh was preaching to the choir. The Columbia County Development Authority knows the value of Augusta. It's the Richmond County Development Authority that needs to hear her message.
Economic Development cooperation between Richmond and Columbia counties began breaking down two years ago when the two chambers of commerce went their separate ways.
A new multicounty industrial recruitment organization, the Augusta Regional Partnership, was supposed to be formed to market the region. But Richmond County has bogged the process down over how to write the bylaws and structure the board.
After two years of this, a frustrated Columbia County Commission decided to pursue its own regional development plan with McDuffie and McCormick counties, but not Richmond.
However, the two sides are going to make another stab at cooperation when the county commissions meet again Wednesday. With McIntosh's words still ringing in their ears, we think Columbia County is eager to forge a partnership.
Yet, it could be Richmond County that has the most to lose if they fail to come to terms. After all, people and businesses are fleeing an economically stagnant Augusta for a growing and progressive Columbia County. Augusta may have the name, as McIntosh says, but Columbia County is rapidly becoming the 800-horsepower engine that's powering the area's economy.
But the consultant is right: The more we work together, the more horsepower we'll all have.