REGIONAL ECONOMIC BENCHMARK REPORT

REGIONAL ECONOMIC BENCHMARK REPORT

A report commissioned by the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Partnership of Aiken, Edgefield and Saluda Counties.

The report measures economic indicators in Aiken County, and the cities of Aiken and North Augusta. The purpose of the report is to provide local decision makers and community makers with detailed information to properly assess the areas of greatest need and to measure the impact of economic development initiatives in the future.

The initial report was issued in May 2014 and is updated yearly.

Click here to read the Regional Economic Benchmark Report for Aiken County – 2016 Update.

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GUEST EDITORIAL:

While the news wasn’t rosy across the board, there were a lot of positives coming out of the 2015 benchmarking report jointly commissioned by the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Partnership.

 

Sales tax revenues are up. So are median household incomes, pending residential home sales and retail sales. And in even more good news, Aiken and North Augusta generally saw greater gains in these and other economic statistical indicators than Columbia County, Georgia. Any declines also were more modest than our Georgian neighbors.

And the best is yet to come.

Today’s expected announcement about the sale and redevelopment of the struggling Aiken Mall isn’t reflected in the benchmarking report, and should be regarded as encouraging news. Aiken City and County officials tell us to expect similarly big announcements in the months to come.

Chamber President David Jameson tells us Aiken is still recovering from the Great Recession. While federal stimulus money helped delay Aiken’s entry into the worst economic downturn since the 1930s, he said, it’s also delaying the community’s emergence from it.

The purchase of Aiken Mall by Southeastern Development Associates (formerly Blanchard and Calhoun Commercial) of Augusta, is just the first step in our delayed recovery. Southeastern’s commitment to the Aiken Mall project is a strong sign of consumer confidence the Georgia developer has in our community. Where there’s consumer confidence, growth tends to follow.

As for the 2015 benchmarking report, there were some areas of concern about some economic indicators, mainly indicators centering on education and employment trends, and the symbiotic relationship between the two.

In the benchmarking report prepared by USC Aiken’s Dr. Senela Porca and presented by Dr. Mick Fekula, also of USCA, the findings stated that Aiken experienced a flat student growth rate and general decline in youth population, both causes for some concern.

In a nutshell, few families are moving to Aiken County. The percentage of residents ages 5 to 18 in the City of Aiken declined in 2014 while remaining constant in North Augusta.

This is reflected in school population data, as well.

In the 2011-12 school year, average daily attendance on the 135th day of school stood at 23,785, according to figures provided by Aiken County Public Schools. Student population totals barely budged in the following two years, losing two students the following year and gaining only one in the next.

There were 23,844 students as of 2015-16, an increase of only 59 students in five years.

Aiken is aging.

That conclusion is supported by other findings in the report, which said there were strong increases in personal income (6.7 percent) and consumer spending (6.3 percent).

Increased consumer spending isn’t bad. It translates into increased sales tax revenues.

Higher personal income also is a good thing. But, as the report suggests, personal income isn’t necessarily due to higher wages, but instead possibly attributable to increased wealth from an increase in retirees.

And since Aiken’s youth population has been flat, the economic data suggests retirees and visitors are responsible for the uptick in retail sales. While that’s good news in the short term, long-term growth depends upon so much more.

It was stated during this week’s presentation that perhaps building bigger and better schools will attract more young people, which over the long term helps build a more sustainable workforce.

While that’s true to a certain extent, building new schools alone won’t automatically jump-start an increase in student population. Jobs are what will bring families here, more so than new schools.

Most Aiken County Public Schools are already performing well, according to state report cards. But if there are no jobs for families, then families will be hesitant to move here.

That’s what makes the Aiken Mall redevelopment news so exciting. It’s not about potentially landing a Pottery Barn, PF Chang’s or giant movie theater – though those things would be nice – but rather it’s about creating an environment that’s conducive for business and industry to relocate here.

Economic confidence is what translates to jobs. And we're confident the Aiken Mall project is representative of the kind of forward thinking that will help lure more families to Aiken County.

Sources:

Regional Economic Benchmarking Report for Aiken County - 2016 Update. Sanela Porca, Ph.D. and Michael J. "Mick" Fekula, Ph.D. School of Business Administration, University of South Carolina Aiken

Aiken Standard Editorial 05.10.2016

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