Dean Richard Franza’s column appeared in the Sunday, December 20 edition of the Augusta Chronicle. The post can be viewed here.
Christmas Day is but a few days away, and many are looking forward to seeing what Santa will leave under the tree for them. Although it has been an unusual and difficult year for business in general, I am happy to say that the Augusta business community has been blessed with a number of early Christmas presents, and I expect there to be more presents under the tree.
Cyber is the gift that keeps on giving: This gift first showed up under our tree on Dec. 19, 2013, when it was announced that U.S. Army Cyber Command would be moving to Fort Gordon.
As we approached Christmas 2016, ground broke at Fort Gordon to begin facility construction for the arrival of Army Cyber Command, and our next big present came a couple of weeks later when Gov. Nathan Deal announced his vision for a Georgia Cyber Center in Augusta during his State of the State Address. By shortly after Christmas 2018, Deal’s vision became reality, and the Georgia Cyber Center now consists of two buildings consisting of about 330,000 square feet.
As we saw on the front page of this paper Dec. 13, cyber continues to grow the Augusta economy as the U.S. Army Cyber Command continues its build-out at Fort Gordon and contractors such as BAE Systems and Perspecta significantly increase their presence in and around the Georgia Cyber Center. We should expect many more “cyber gifts” for Augusta for many Christmases to come.
Newest “Home of the Braves”: Christmas came a little early for the Augusta GreenJackets, when on Dec. 9 it was announced that the Atlanta Braves had extended an invitation to the GreenJackets to become a Minor League Baseball affiliate.
While the GreenJackets are blessed with a great facility, a loyal fan base and a skilled management team that has come up with fun, revenue-generating events during the pandemic, the Braves affiliation is a great gift for the team. Braves fans will now come in larger numbers to SRP Park to see some of their future stars. Season ticket memberships are now available, and I imagine demand is on the rise.
Downtown buzz: While the pandemic has reduced my trips downtown from my Columbia County home, my family and I ventured downtown for dinner on a recent weekend. Despite the pandemic, downtown was buzzing with pedestrian traffic and restaurants were doing a brisk business, definitely a gift to the local food and beverage industry. Establishments were operating safely and customers were enjoying outstanding food and drink.
I can only imagine how much the dining scene in Augusta will flourish once we get past the pandemic.
Large-business and economic development: Christmas presents have been arriving throughout the year from the west in Columbia County to south Augusta. In April, we learned of Amazon’s plan for a 600,000-square-foot, 800-employee distribution center off Interstate 20 in Columbia County’s White Oak Business Park. Construction is underway with an anticipated opening in late 2021.
Concurrently, numerous large businesses have their eyes on Augusta Corporate Park, where 800 to 1,000 acres of land have been cleared for potential prospects.
Burgeoning entrepreneurship: Christmas presents have not been limited to large businesses. Augusta has seen a growth in entrepreneurship, and one of its entrepreneurial centers recently received a present of its own. Last week, the Clubhou.se received a $250,000 grant from the Partnership of Inclusive Innovation, a public-private partnership launched by the state of Georgia under the leadership of Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan. This grant will help support The Clubhou.se’s efforts in entrepreneurial skills development.
You can find examples of the gifts of entrepreneurship all around us in the Augusta area. For instance, check out the growth of Field Botanicals, an independent beauty store in downtown Augusta, founded by entrepreneur Jennifer Tinsley.
Corporate support: As Christmas approaches, I was recently reminded of the great gifts Augusta business receives throughout the year from the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce and its member companies.
On Dec. 10, I attended the chamber’s Member Economic Series event in which it recognized Augusta’s Top 10 in 10 Young Professionals to Watch and presented its Best in Business Awards for 2020. In Augusta, we are blessed by the gift of companies like Augusta Magazine, which sponsors the Top 10 in 10, and South State Bank and Georgia Power, which sponsor the Entrepreneur of the Year Award and Corporation of the Year Award, respectively.
Kudos to the talented Top 10 in 10 and Entrepreneur of the Year winner, Allan Soto, and Company of the Year, ADP, for all that they contribute to Augusta. We learned that we are gifted not only by their talent for business but also their generosity and investment in our community.
Under the Hull College of Business tree: We at the Hull College of Business have been blessed with a recent Christmas gift. On Dec. 8, we were named one of Princeton Review’s Best Business Schools. Out of the thousands of business schools, we were one of 244 selected for best on-campus MBA programs. Such success is a tribute to our world-class faculty, our outstanding staff, and our talented graduates who every day represent the value of an education from Augusta University and the Hull College of Business.
While this will be a most different Christmas for many of us, let us not forget the gifts that we received throughout the year and those that we will receive on Christmas and beyond. I wish all of you a joyful and blessed holiday season and may your 2021 be memorable for the good it will bring.