Aiken County’s progress bringing more high-paying, manufacturing jobs to the area is a good start to not only spur growth, but to create a better economy, USC Aiken business professor Dr. Clifton Jones said.

Jones, alongside USCA business professor Dr. Sanela Porca, rehashed the possible future of Aiken’s growth and economy during the Aiken Rotary Club meeting on Monday. He told club members a negative growth rate for Aiken County could still be a real possibility.

The findings were released earlier this year in the Regional Economic Benchmarking Report for Aiken County, a report by Jones and Porca, funded by the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Partnership.

Jones and Porca analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau and concluded that South Carolina as a whole is growing rapidly, and the City of North Augusta is growing at an even faster pace. However, Aiken County’s growth rate continues to slow down, while the City of Aiken’s growth rate is approaching zero.

As part of the study, Jones shared some additional insights into what he and Porca thought would be positive, long-term steps for the community for take.

“Promoting higher levels of educational attainment is a great long-term objective that helps raise personal household income levels,” Jones said.

“It seems pretty clear to us that reduced funding at the Site (Savannah River Site) is inevitable, and so transitioning to an economy less dependent on external funding ... is a long-term thing we should work on now. Greater diversification is key; retirees and the equestrians have been a big help on that,” he added

Jones added that bringing more manufacturing jobs to the County is another important step toward diversification.

But, Jones said, those long-term steps are not enough to attract well-paying jobs to the county if those workers choose not to live here.

“One of the reasons they might not, if you want to take a look at the attractiveness of the county, public schools are clearly a major factor,” Jones said. “We’ve heard a great deal of that recently in terms of the one-cent sales tax, trying to get additional funding to improve the attractiveness of those schools. ... We felt like if we just do nothing and watch recent trends continue, that could threaten the quality of life that we have here in our county.”

Maayan Schechter is the local government reporter with Aiken Standard. Follow her on Twitter @MaayanSchechter.