The Central Savannah River area has seen tremendous growth in recent years, and the region’s largest employer has kept pace.
Fort Gordon has added 9,000 people over the past eight years, a staggering number that Tom Clark, Alliance executive director for Fort Gordon, would have made the front pages of several publications if the military installation were a private employer.
Clark was one of four panelists who spoke on the “state of the community” at the North Augusta Chamber of Commerce quarterly luncheon on May 3. He was joined by Jim O’Loughlin, CEO of Aiken Regional Medical Centers, King Laurence and Jim Clifford, North Augusta City Administrator.
“It’s really an economic engine for our region,” Clark said of the Augusta base which benefited from the Army’s consolidation and relocation of the entire National Cyber Command two years ago. .
In recent years, the base has seen its annual economic impact grow from $2.4 billion to $2.7 billion.
More than 80 base construction projects that will support the new Cyber Command are receiving nearly $2 billion by 2028. The Cyber Center Schoolhouse expansion will account for approximately $900 million of that amount.
More jobs, more people, more demand: several factors have symbiotically contributed to population and economic growth in CSRA, Aiken County and, more locally, in northern Augusta.
And it’s not a westward shift of Aiken County’s eastern end, but countywide growth that’s simply been most pronounced at the Georgia-Carolina border, North Augusta’s Clifford said. .
“We live in a pretty robust economic area and we benefit from a lot of smart decisions by industry and people here,” he said.
Investments in health, education
One of the industries that has grown in this region is health care, and this despite the difficulties that South Carolina‘s status as a state certificate of need presents for the expansion of health care systems. health.
Aiken Regional Medical Centers opened a new multi-practice facility on Georgia Avenue on Monday, and its standalone ER in Sweetwater at Exit 5 will open in late June.
The health system is launching the first of two residency programs this summer; within three years, when the family medicine and internal medicine residency programs have matured, the system will have 42 residents in the CMRA.
O’Loughlin, CEO of Aiken Regional, said the CMRA is also expanding its capabilities by investing in new treatments and especially those that will increase its status as a premier heart and stroke center.
“One of the things we look at in cardiology, as well as others, is why people leave the community and what services do we provide to the community that people have to leave for,” O’ said. Loughlin.
Expansion into the field of electrophysiology has become a priority, he said, noting that currently Aiken Regional needs to transfer patients to Augusta or Lexington for this type of treatment.
“We have built an electrophysiology lab and are in discussions with the Medical University of South Carolina to bring electrophysiologists to Aiken several days a week so that we can provide these services here in the community,” O’ said. Laughlin.
Aiken County Public Schools also had to read the tea leaves and plan years in advance where new schools should be built, what investments should be made with other area partners, and how to pay for everything. that.
Eight years ago, voters approved a penny sales tax that to date has raised $140.78 million in the district for projects such as the new Aiken and North Augusta high schools and the new career and technology center. That center is also set to receive a $30 million boost from the plutonium settlement if it passes the final budgeting stages in the state house and gets Governor Henry McMaster’s signature.
The center would provide “additional pathways from K-12 education to the technical college system and then to USC Aiken and other universities,” said Laurence, superintendent of schools for Aiken County.
The new Highland Springs Middle School is expected to open its doors to some 700 students for the 2023-2024 school year. An elementary school is also being built in this area along Palmetto Parkway. The designs for both schools changed from earlier plans due to a forecast of having to accommodate even more students.
North Augusta’s population alone has grown 14% over the past decade to just under 25,000. Names like ‘Highland Springs’, ‘Austin Heights’ and ‘Mealing tract’ have entered the common parlance of residential development in the city, which last year saw its biggest development boom since Riverside Village opened. five years ago.
As for Fort Gordon, this influx of people to the base is good news for CSRA Realtors, said the Alliance’s Clark.
Fort Gordon has built more homes for both general officers and junior enlisted personnel, but the base is still “90% full” and most of those who work at the base live in nearby ones, said Clark.
In North Augusta in particular, Exit 5 may have been the hot spot for new development in recent years, but City Administrator Clifford said it could move to Exit 1 because already established neighborhoods are seeing more development and the pathways between North Augusta High School and West Martintown are receiving interest. , also.
Business development is also accelerating.
Plans on North Augusta’s Motor Mile are now rolling off the blocks: the Hyundai dealership is expected to open before fall with the new KIA opening in the spring.
North Augusta Forward had also announced earlier this year the sale of the former carpet store – formerly the roller rink – to local developer and current North Augusta president Brett Brannon for rehabilitation into larger office space and retail outlet that would occupy the adjacent property. as well.
The City of North Augusta is also working to attract businesses that will complement what Augusta has in Fort Gordon.
“We’re trying to advocate for e-businesses and e-businesses to be here in North Augusta. Georgia has truly stepped out of the ordinary with the Georgia Cyber Center,” said Clifford of North Augusta. “I think there are still opportunities out there, and if those opportunities exist, I want them to be here and not in Columbia County or Richmond County, I want them to be here in the city. of North Augusta.”