Leadership paramount for Aiken's future

The Regional Economic Benchmarking Report for Aiken County, commissioned by the Aiken Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Partnership and released on May 15, identifies the good news, and equally important, the areas of concern, for the community. 

The report was done by Dr. Clifton T. Jones, professor of economics and dean, and Dr. Sanela Porca, professor of economics, School of Business Administration at the University of South Carolina Aiken. The initiative is the direct result of the Aiken Chamber’s Blue Ribbon Panel work on the “Next Big Ideas” for Aiken and Aiken County. 

“Aiken is very fortunate to have a high quality local university with the talent to capture and analyze this data in a usable and understandable way,” said Aiken Chamber President and CEO J. David Jameson.  

“The benchmarking report arms us with valuable information that will help us move our community forward.  The initiative demonstrates the commitment of the Chamber leadership and spotlights an excellent collaboration between the Aiken Chamber and the Economic Development Partnership,” he said. 

“During the last ten years, the Aiken economy enjoyed explosive retirement and equine growth followed by a $1.6B surge in funding at the Savannah River Site.  These were all positive attributes to economic growth but masked an important missing component – the attraction of high income families with children where the parents choose to work – and live – in Aiken County.  The report is clearly a call to action,” Jameson said. 

“We need to re-engage and concentrate on the needs necessary for business growth and job creation.  It will take passionate and effective leadership from all sectors working together to take our community to the next level,” he said. 

Comments from Business and Community Leaders

 “When you love your community, it's all too easy to be satisfied with the way things are. However, I believe the findings in this report are a call to action and a reason to enter an important conversation as a community about the future direction of a place we all love and call home.” 

Dr. Deidre Martin

University of South Carolina Aiken

Chair, Aiken Chamber of Commerce

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“The Regional Economic Benchmarking Report provides the data to support what many of us intuitively already knew about the economic conditions in Aiken County.  The report supports our observations relative to the real estate market, retail spending, and population growth in our community and provides an excellent baseline to evaluate the effectiveness of our efforts going forward.” 

Bart Blackwell

B & S Machine Tool, Inc.

Chair-elect, Aiken Chamber of Commerce

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“The benchmarking report validates for me that we have to consider investment in education for Aiken County. With slowing population growth, businesses are going to have to find ways to attract people to Aiken in order to sustain their businesses. Otherwise, Aiken is going to continue to lose people to surrounding counties. Without an adequate educated workforce, it will be very difficult to attract new companies with good paying jobs for our citizens.” 

Fran Jones

Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations

Vice Chair, Business and Community Development

Aiken Chamber of Commerce

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“The benchmarking report shows us that we as a community are not doing as well as many of us may have thought.  It makes it clear that we must focus on improving both our economic situation and the facilities of our K – 12 schools.  While we have been able to attract high quality manufacturing, many of those employees are choosing to live in Columbia County instead of Aiken County.  A strong local economy and high quality schools can reverse that trend.” 

Charlie Hartz

Dunkin Donuts of Aiken

Vice Chair, Public Affairs

Aiken Chamber of Commerce

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“We have been concerned by the anecdotal evidence that many families with school-age children were choosing to live somewhere other than Aiken County, even if they worked here, due to the condition of our public school infrastructure. This report not only verifies that concern but indicates that it is happening at a very aggressive rate. We must improve our attractiveness to families and to industries that may choose to locate here. It is not only an educational and quality of life issue but also an economic issue.” 

Paul Dusenbury

VistaBank

Secretary/Treasurer, Aiken Chamber of Commerce

Aiken Chamber Blue Ribbon Panel

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"I was slightly disappointed by the results of the Benchmarking report that we heard on Thursday. Although Aiken has had a relatively stable economy over the past few years, even through the downturn in the economy, I do fear that negative population growth and a continually aging population could be setting Aiken up for an uncertain future. I think it’s time to start investing some thought into how we can turn this trend around and protect the future of Aiken." 

Catie Rabun

The Mill on Park

Board of Directors, Aiken Chamber of Commerce

Aiken Chamber Blue Ribbon Panel

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“This report provides confirmation of a lot of anecdotal information we had been hearing the last few years. The data shows some positive trends but more importantly it gives us opportunities to work together as a community, with facts, to move forward.”  

Will Williams

Economic Development Partnership

Aiken Chamber Blue Ribbon Panel

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“The information in the benchmarking report provided very helpful and valuable information.  I hope we will use this information in order to make Aiken County a better place to live, both economically and definitely educationally, with more opportunities for everyone.” 

Rosemary English

Aiken County Board of Education

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“My first impression of the report is that Aiken County, the City of Aiken and to a lesser degree the City of North Augusta need to begin the process of redirecting their efforts to economic development and less to quality of life issues. We can no longer continue to spend money on parks, flowers, and new water meters but need to increase and improve those things that make economic development prosper. That would include having less city and county government regulation, more expansion of infrastructure (water/sewer), and better road systems.  This will require a change of mindset from government councils and the sooner the better.” 

Tad Barber

RE/MAX Tattersall Group LLC

Commercial Division

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“The study is a great start to a collaborative effort that I hope will continue.   I was encouraged by the results in the study showing employment levels for Aiken County have surpassed their previous peaks reached before the recession, although unemployment levels remain high.  The study also highlighted industry sectors in the area that are currently growing.  This is very helpful when looking at where workforce training dollars in the region should be focused.”  

Nora Sanders

Lower Savannah Council of Governments

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“What we see tends to confirm the Blue Ribbon Panel’s suspicion that Aiken is being overtaken by certain neighboring communities and counties, and that we can no longer automatically count on the good things that always seemed to happen naturally for Aiken.  On several of the indicators, we cannot yet tell whether the downturns are short-term blips or beginnings of disturbing trends.” 

Dr. David Cozad

Aiken Chamber Blue Ribbon Panel

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“Dr. Clifton Jones did an excellent job compiling and presenting the Regional Economic Benchmarking data. The information presented should serve as a wakeup call to all leaders in Aiken that we have much work to do to ensure our community continues to grow and has a bright future.” 

Keith Wood

URS Corporation, URS - PS

Past Chair, Aiken Chamber of Commerce

Aiken Chamber Blue Ribbon Panel

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“Certainly this comprehensive report is extremely informative and can assist the entire business community with positive paths forward. We here in Aiken simply must attract higher income families with children. Our schools, economic development entities, the chamber, and other city/county forces must work and plan together for Aiken to continue to flourish. Our resilient community is up to the task!” 

Diane Miniard

Meybohm Realtors

Aiken County Board of Realtors

 

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