MEDIA COVERAGE
 
 
Augusta Chronicle - Jun 29 00
Augusta's expansion draws companies
 
Powerserve International recently won the coveted e-Millennium Award at the Comdex trade show in Chicago. But when U.S. Operations President Victor Wolters took home his award, he did not return to California's Silicon Valley. He came home to Augusta.

Augusta is headquarters of U.S. operations of the Australian-owned company. Located in The Atrium on Wheeler Road, the company employs 12 programmers. It won the e-Millennium Award for software that will allow online retailers to independently change information on their Web sites.

But they did it here, not in California, not in New York, not in Atlanta. And others may soon follow in an exodus away from large metropolitan areas and their surrounding suburbs.

"It was a conscious choice on my part," said Mr. Wolters, whose company develops business software for companies locally (Meybohm and E-Z-GO) and as far away as Vancouver, Canada.

"I was given the option of locating our headquarters anywhere, and I did it here. Here I can get better people with long-term focus and commitment to our company; the turnover rate in this business is very high. And instead of paying $21 to $25 per square foot of building space that I would in Atlanta, I can put more money into my employees."
According to Harry S. Dent Jr., author of The Roaring 2000s, most people will try "living smarter," moving to areas where the cost of living is lower and the quality of life is higher.

Mr. Dent names Augusta as an emerging, affordable growth city that offers economical residential and commercial real estate and rapidly increasing job opportunities. And chamber officials hope he's right.

"The premise is good," said Kevin Shea, senior vice president of economic development for the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce.
"We've got a great quality of life, we've got good recreational activities, low cost of living, good value for homes, great health care, culture and the cost of doing business is low. Having all this in conjunction with technology will certainly help us."

Cities such as Augusta, Mr. Dent said, offer a way to escape the high-cost suburbs, while retaining access to most of the modern consumer and business services. The only negative aspect of moving to a small town is a lack of the arts and live entertainment opportunities, he said.

"An enormous number of people will escape overcrowded, expensive suburbs and move to a variety of attractive small towns, new-growth cities, ex-urban areas beyond the suburbs ... This next migration is not merely about financial profit, it is more fundamentally a lifestyle opportunity."

"It reflects the unprecedented range of lifestyle choices we now enjoy. Simply put, we now have the flexibility to choose a geographic area that supports both our personal and our professional goals."

In the same way that cars, phones and electricity were responsible for the evolution of suburbs after the Roaring Twenties, the technical revolution and evolving communication technology will radically change how and where we work, offering new choices about where we live, he said.

"We are on the brink of the next major population migration, fueled by the same incentive that drove us to the suburbs: an affordable, high-quality lifestyle ... We are going to see at least 20 percent of the population of North America, or approximately 70 million people, migrate to ex-urban areas, small towns and new-growth cities in the next three decades."

The decay of the suburbs around larger cities will hasten the move to these areas, and Mr. Dent predicts this migration wave will continue until the mid-2020s. With the proliferation of personal computers and advances in technology, many will work out of home, instead of commuting, or will work in satellite offices closer to home.

Augusta is ready to take advantage of this trend, Mr. Shea said.

But for Augusta to capitalize on this trend, it must improve its transportation services, he said.

"The difficulty for us is working on air service and roads," Mr. Shea said. "We've got both, but we can improve both. That would help the whole situation."

On May 18, Delta Air Lines announced it was pulling its jet service out of Augusta Regional Airport at Bush Field, effectively ending a 66-year relationship with the Garden City. While Atlantic Southeast Airlines, Comair and US Airways offer nonstop direct flights to three major hubs - Atlanta, Cincinnati and Charlotte, N.C. - chamber officials say the loss of the Delta name will hurt the city's marketing efforts, especially when competing with Columbia and Savannah for relocating businesses.

"It's sort of the chicken and the egg situation," Mr. Shea said. "If we have enough people coming here and enough people flying, then you'll get better air service. And if we ever get this road to Savannah, get the Bobby Jones Expressway completed and the north-south highway, then that will only improve the tremendous opportunity for people to come here, for business to come here."




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