The Tri-County Boom

Aiken, Columbia and Richmond counties recount successful growth and economic development in 2023

Photos by Mark Albertin

Growth throughout the Savannah River Region continues as the state of Georgia remains the number one place to do business, according to area economic development leaders. Over the past year, Aiken, Columbia and Richmond counties have seen growth in new business and industry. While they say the post-pandemic outlook is bright, development leaders agree that growth is a team effort. 

This year, more than a dozen new businesses have opened in Aiken County, primarily located within the cities of Aiken and North Augusta, according to Director of Economic Development Will Williams. Additionally, Williams explains that after four years, the county has acquired more than 1,800 acres and plans to open a new industrial park in eastern Aiken County. 

“This is more job opportunities with shorter commutes for some and as new investment comes, new tax revenue to support county and school operations will follow,” Williams notes. 

In Augusta-Richmond County (ARC), economic development has brought in more than $832 million in capital investments and 250 new jobs in 2023, relates Cal Wray, President of the Augusta Economic Development Authority. While this is a decrease from the approximately $1.4 billion in economic development reported for 2022-23, Wray says they are still pleased with the numbers.

Among the county’s newest economic drivers and largest ongoing developments, existing business and industry is making an impact. Solvay Specialty Polymers, which opened in the Augusta Corporate Park in 2000, announced an expansion this year, with an economic impact anticipated to boost employment and wages.

“That’s a multiple, hundred-million-dollar project,” remarks Wray. “They will have 100 jobs and that pay will be much higher than the average normal pay in Augusta. Right now, there are 400 to 500 construction jobs associated with that build.” Upon the completion of the expansion, Solvay will have an estimated $2 billion in the ground in Augusta over the past five years, says Wray. Solvay is not the only success story, as the Augusta Corporate Park currently has “about $1.3 billion in current and planned investment.” 

Additional industries include Starbucks, which completed construction in 2018-19, along with new and upcoming construction at PureCycle Technologies, Denkai America and Aurubis Richmond LLC. Since 2018, Augusta has seen a combined $3.8 billion in projects and almost 5,000 jobs. However, Wray explains that they have expanded their focus to include the growth of residential development. 

“At the end of the day, you’ve got to create jobs, and the only way to create jobs physically in Richmond County is that you have to have places for people to live,” he says. “That’s also why we partner with Columbia County, we partner with Aiken County, we partner with Burke County, because all of our success helps them, and all of their success helps us.” And more apartment housing is in the works in Richmond County. 

“At the end of the day, you’ve got to create jobs, and the only way to create jobs physically in Richmond County is that you have to have places for people to live.”

Cal Wray, President of the 
Augusta Economic Development Authority

New construction, currently underway at the John P. King Mill on Goodrich Street, aims to renovate the historic landmark to include 245 apartment units, according to Wayne Millar, Managing Partner with Cape Augusta, the group overseeing the project. Adjacent to King Mill is Sibley Mill, another historic landmark, which will also undergo renovations for an additional 215 units. These renovations, located within historic districts, are anticipated to incorporate as many of the buildings’ original design features as possible. 

“We have to get all aspects of the project approved by the National Park Service, so we work closely with them, and the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA),” Millar adds.

The King Mill apartments are expected to be opened in phases over four to six months beginning this summer, and Millar says they anticipate breaking ground on the Sibley Mill renovations later this year. Combined, the two major projects bring an investment of approximately $130 million, Millar notes.  

It’s a well-intentioned effort Millar says to get Augusta “back on its feet. Currently, downtown Augusta is a food desert, so any and all housing will contribute to hastening the day when we can get a grocery store planted back in downtown Augusta for the residents.”

In Columbia County, the new White Oak Business Park at I-20 continues to boom. The park’s first tenant, Club Car, has begun an expansion to build out the remainder of the 104,000-square-foot building, the second of two the company is housed in. Additionally, the Amazon Distribution Center has seen tremendous growth and now employs close to 5,000, over and above the initially anticipated 1,200 jobs when the center was first announced. 

“There is still adequate space to expand for the existing businesses or new businesses,” says Rick Evans, Chairman of the Board of the Development Authority of Columbia County. “We are constantly marketing the remaining parcels, and we are under construction of a phase II road that will provide infrastructure for undeveloped land in the back of the park.”

“There is still adequate space to expand for the existing businesses or new businesses.”

Rick Evans, Chairman of the 
Board of the Development Authority of Columbia County
Photo of the growing White Oak Business Park by Mark Albertin.

The ongoing development at the Gateway area in Grovetown is expected to continue even further with the anticipated construction of a new hospital. “Columbia County has the highest population without a hospital located within the county boundaries, so it will have a significant impact on that side of the county,” Evans adds. 

In Evans, the Evans Towne Center area grew to include an incredible response to the Performing Arts Center, which has brought Broadway productions, comedians and more to sold-out audiences. Next door, The Premiere, a new apartment community which sits on 8.6 acres, is currently under construction, bringing an anticipated 300-unit urban-style residential apartments and 10,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space at the street level. 

“The goal is to create healthy, steady growth for the county, but also make it attractive and easy for businesses, whether it’s big industry or retailers, to make it a place they want to come,” says Anita Patel, Assistant Director of the Development Authority of Columbia County.   

At the end of the day, these leaders believe in the power of teamwork and the efforts of each county to benefit the region as a whole. “Half of our labor force in our business park comes from Richmond County,” Patel says. “Our Columbia County residents, a lot of them go and work at the hospitals or go to Savannah River Site. We have actually made it a regional effort … we are a team.”

Overall, the region’s economic development leaders are looking ahead to an even brighter future which includes exciting announcements in the new year expected to positively impact economic growth in the region.

Progress pictures of King Mill as of March 13, 2024.

Seen in the February/March 2024 issue of Augusta magazine.

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