The spillover impact from the new Cyber Command center coming to Fort Gordon should be embraced by Aiken County.
It obviously won’t completely rejuvenate our economy, since the fort is still 45 miles away, but with thousands of people expected to be hired, it should provide a needed boost.
The facility is expected to draw 4,000 employees, but that will likely mean about 10,000 people coming into the area when you factor in spouses and children, according to Thom Tuckey, the executive director of the CSRA Alliance for Fort Gordon.
While the majority of those people are expected to live in Georgia, it’s expected that growth will fortunately spill over into Aiken County.
That’s particularly good news as our community deals with a struggling national economy, as well as slowed population growth locally.
Those two aspects don’t paint an overwhelmingly positive picture, but the incoming jobs at Fort Gordon are exactly what we need. These are highly skilled, high-earning positions, and no new housing is being constructed for them at the post.
That means these Army personnel – which are higher-ranked, likely married with families – will be searching for homes out in the community. They will be shopping at local shops and eating at local restaurants, predominately in Richmond and Columbia counties, but also likely in Aiken County.
Our community thankfully has had a string of success as well of late, particularly with the historic investment made by Bridgestone at its tire manufacturing facility at Sage Mill Industrial Park, new jobs from MTU America and start-ups such as Recleim coming to Graniteville.
But growth is still being moderated because of a number of external and internal factors. The national economy remains sluggish, personal income growth is slowing nationwide and residential and commercial construction is down.
Additionally, our biggest economic asset locally – the Savannah River Site – has been hit with jobs losses and uncertainty, particularly because of the follies of the federal government. Despite the downturn, SRS does remain a key economic driver, but it’s imperative that it gets a renewed influx of missions, which would spur economic growth.
One project that could be a key stimulate at SRS is the Mixed Oxide Fuel, or MOX, facility. However, MOX has seemingly been set on the pause button after President Barack Obama recommended putting the project in “cold standby,” meaning it could potentially be shuttered in the future.
The U.S. House of Representatives did recently provide $345 million for construction of the facility after it passed its Energy and Water Appropriations bill, but that funding must also be approved by the U.S. Senate.
With such long-term uncertainty still surrounding MOX and manufacturing jobs still being needed, the Command Center should be a welcomed asset locally, even if it’s across the Savannah River.
Additionally, a new outlet mall is expected to come to the Augusta area in the spring of 2016, which is expected to be about 400,000 square feet of shopping space. The new mall is set to bring in 1,500 new jobs to the community, which will likely be at least partially filled by residents of Aiken County.
These kinds of projects should be looked at as a rising tide lifting all boats as improvements in the economies of Richmond and Columbia counties spill over into Aiken County.
However, it’s obvious we can’t survive off the economies of our Georgia neighbors.
Greater diversification of the local economy is vital, which includes bringing in more well-paying manufacturing jobs to Aiken County.
A stronger economy will increase the attractiveness of Aiken County, drawing new residents and ensuring a brighter, more sustainable future locally.
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