Originally created 12/12/04

Award boosts Columbia County's appeal



Columbia County schools can add one more accolade to their list: the blue ribbon award.

The recognition is set to be made later this month by Expansion Management magazine, which caters to executives. The blue ribbon designation in the magazine's 14th annual education quotient is something Columbia County economic officials say will help development in their county.

"To receive the blue ribbon award from a nationally recognized economic development magazine like Expansion Management gives us the opportunity to brag on our school system from the view of an outside agency," Columbia County Development Authority Executive Director Zack Daffin said. "That means a lot to me in giving me an additional tool to be able to use when bragging on Columbia County."

The magazine used a formula based on graduation rates, a community's financial commitment to education, and a community's adult education and income level to rate 2,800 school systems nationwide. Blue ribbon designations were given to the top one-third.

Richmond and Aiken county schools were rated as average by the magazine.

Sheila Hancock, department chairwoman for Business Information Technology for Lakeside High School, said the new designation for Columbia County schools sets the system apart.

"If you have a choice to move here between Columbia County and Richmond County, when they look at us and what we're producing, it gives us an edge," she said.

Expansion Management Chief Editor Bill King said the education quotient provides companies a means of comparing communities considering expansion or relocation.

"In today's knowledge-based global economy, nothing is more important to companies than the ability to find, and employ, an increasingly well-educated work force," Mr. King wrote in a released statement.

FirstCo Inc., a wheel supplier for farming equipment, recently opened an operation in Grovetown to be closer to John Deere, one of the manufacturer's largest customers. However, FirstCo Vice President and Plant Manager Bill Foster said having good schools nearby helped in the company's decision to expand into Columbia County.

"Obviously, we wanted to be close to John Deere, which was the No. 1 consideration, but being in the right area was important also," Mr. Foster said. "There were people like myself, who moved down here, and we expect others to come. They have families, and they want to be around good schools."

There are many factors in selling a community to outside industry, such as available land, good industrial parks and interstate access, Mr. Daffin said.

"But when you get past that, companies are wanting to know what type of people they are going to be hiring," he said. "Again, that gets back to the quality of our work force, which is very, very good thanks in no small part to the school system."

As major companies continue outsourcing lower skill level jobs to foreign countries, the demand for a well-educated work force will increase in America's technology- and knowledge-based economy, Mr. Daffin said.

"The school system, in general, in preparing our workers for tomorrow's economy is critical," he said. "It's comforting to know that our school system is achieving noteworthy recognition for the work that they're doing."

Impact: A blue ribbon designation given to the Columbia County School System by a national trade magazine will be used by economic developers to help sell the county to businesses thinking of expanding or relocating.

Reach Donnie Fetter at 868-1222, ext. 109, or donnie.fetter@augustachronicle.com.