Rolling Out the Red Carpet

In just a few weeks, visitors will pour into Augusta to watch one of the most famous sporting events on earth.

They’ll watch the most talented golfers alive play on the highest level. They’ll head downtown to eat and drink at Frog Hollow and The Bee’s Knees and Nacho Mama’s. They’ll stay at the brand new Hyatt House downtown and the Crowne Plaza North Augusta and in residences across the city.

They’ll make their way to Evans to watch Darius Rucker and Josh Kelley take the stage at Rock Fore! Dough. When they aren’t exploring Augusta National and roaring as a crowd at highlight-reel shots, they’ll eat, drink and play their way through the most action-packed week in Augusta all year.

But then most of them will go back to their home cities, and they won’t come back again until the next Masters Tournament. Many of them might never step foot in the Garden City again.

That’s what separates the Red Carpet Tour Augusta from the rest of Masters week. While most of Augusta puts on a show for tourists and locals to give them the best possible few days, the Red Carpet Tour has a bigger vision.

Red Carpet Tour Augusta attracts some of the world’s most successful executives, consultants and developers to Augusta for Masters week not just to watch the tournament, but to showcase the Augusta area and all that it has to offer companies that are considering locating there.

“They’re sometimes very surprised at the extent of the community and the size of the community,” said Sue Parr, president and CEO of the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce. “Most people don’t realize that Augusta is Georgia’s second-largest city.”

From Sunday to Sunday, tour hosts will give five different groups of businesspeople, consultants and developers through an extensive look at Augusta: the potential sites, the southern hospitality, the widespread development, the people and, of course, one of the most legendary sporting experiences on earth.

“These are companies that have already shown interest in Augusta, and we’re going to try to further their interest,” said Cal Wray, president of the Augusta Economic Development Authority. “A couple of my invites of last year and this year are in active site location process. There’s an enjoyment factor of it where it’s a more relaxed environment, and we can have an enjoyable conversation. They can relax and actually see the community from a different perspective.”

The event isn’t exactly based on selling locations. At its essence, the Red Carpet Tour Augusta is selling a cultural and lifestyle experience in the heart of the south, with one of the biggest sporting events in history as its centerpiece.

“It’s never been intended to be a hard sale of Georgia,” Chris Clark, president and CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, said of the Red Carpet Tour. “It’s meant to build friendships and relationships over the long term.”

Although Red Carpet Tour Augusta is its own event, it’s also part of a statewide Red Carpet Tour run by the Georgia Chamber, which has been showcasing the state as a business destination since 1960 and has used it to help bring tens of billions of dollars in investments to Georgia.

In the late 1950’s, economic developers in Georgia began looking for ways to draw investment from northern states down south. An annual six-day economic development tour across the state would end in Augusta. At the time, the Masters was nearing its 30-year anniversary but hadn’t gained the fame that would begin to characterize the tournament over next two decades with stars like Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player dominating the tournament.

The Augusta business community, the Augusta National and developers throughout the state decided that the Masters would make the perfect main event for a tour of Georgia.

“Now here we are 59 years later basing the program around Augusta, around the Masters,” Clark said. “When we talk to the guests—some that were with us 10 to 20 years ago—two things always come up. First, walking up that fairway at No. 1. Number two is the people. They talk about meeting people in Augusta, hearing the history of people who grew up around Augusta, having a Bloody Mary with someone, having a pimento cheese sandwich with someone at the course. That’s how we connect with people on a personal level.”

Clark said other states have tried to replicate Georgia’s model built on the Masters. The problem is a lack of an anchor event of such a high caliber. Even then, the Masters is just one element of the experience that the tour provides.

“We always make a point to take them through those beautiful neighborhoods,” Clark said. “That tells a great, great story. We might take them kayaking. We might take them deep sea fishing. There’s so many activities to build a great quality of life in Georgia, and people don’t really see those until they’ve been on the ground here for a few days.”

On a local level, Wray said around 30 unique groups will be in attendance at the Red Carpet Tour Augusta this year, including representatives from Georgia Power, Georgia Economic Development, Georgia Electric Membership Corps and others.

“It’s 100 percent relationship-building,” said Robbie Bennett, executive director of the Columbia County Development Authority. “It starts from the time our guests come in, to going to the course, to following up with them afterward and hearing their story. Watching them see the golf course for the first time—to see them at the Masters for the first time—is awe-inspiring. And they remember it.”

Those memories turn into long-term relationships, which can turn into investments, even if its 10 years down the road.

“It is an invaluable tool that we are blessed to have, building lasting relationship with companies and prospects,” Bennett said.

When attendees aren’t soaking up the Masters and local culture, they’re touring the city to see what Augusta offers when it comes to development, business and industrial opportunities, from Fort Gordon to the Augusta Corporate Park to the Augusta Regional Airport. Wray said the sheer amount of acreage in the Augusta area that is ready for development is a rarity. Many communities around the U.S. simply don’t have that advantage.

“Whether it’s five acres or 500 acres, we have all that to offer here,” Wray said. “A lot of places don’t have the acreage to make that feasible.”

Tour guests have helped create $3.2 billion in investment and 15,000 jobs in Georgia since its inception, according to the Augusta Mertro Chamber of Commerce. Local investments following past tours include carbon concrete additive manufacturer EdenCrete’s $70 million manufacturing plant and service provider Sitel’s customer service center, according to a 2018 report in The Augusta Chronicle.

“I can’t say enough about Sue Parr and the team at the Augusta chamber,” Clark said. “They give so selflessly and go above and beyond. We’re blessed to have them there doing that work.”

While local hosts are busy guiding five groups of Red Carpet Tour attendees throughout the city over the course of Masters week, the Georgia Chamber will be doing the same thing on a statewide scale. Guests are paired with an industry leader in Georgia, giving them a source of personal insight into what it’s like to do business in Georgia.

The tour includes two nights in Augusta during the tournament, one night in Atlanta and two nights in a location that the chamber doesn’t disclose until the tour.

The 60th anniversary of the Red Carpet Tour comes at a time when Georgia has found itself at the top of various lists of the best states to do business. Site Selection magazine has named it the best state to do business several years over the last decade, highlighting Georgia’s robust economic development initiatives and pro-business environment.

Area Development, another site selection and planning publication, named Georgia the top state to do business in 2018, giving the state a five-year run in the top spot of Area Development’s rankings. The publication based its rankings on 11 categories that relate to location and facility planning, including overall cost of doing business, corporate tax environment, business incentives programs and access to capital and project funding.

When the 83rd Masters kicks off, the Red Carpet Tours, both the statewide tour and the Augusta tour, will aim to introduce those advantages to potential investors in a unique, personal experience in the Peach State.

“We do southern hospitality better than anyone else in the world, and the Masters and the Red Carpet Tour gives us a platform to show that hospitality,” Clark said.

Article appears in the April 2021 issue of Augusta Magazine.

Article appears in the February/March 2019 issue of Augusta Magazine.

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