Augusta | Richmond County: More than the Masters

New business opportunities and innovations.

State Augusta Pin17While Augusta is probably best known as home of the Masters Tournament, it was also the childhood home of iconic soul singer James Brown and home of the U.S. Army Cyber Center of Excellence at Fort Gordon. However, these highlights are just part of the “magic” occuring in one of Georgia’s oldest cities.

“It’s hard to describe the magic that is happening,” says Augusta Mayor Garnett Johnson. “Yes, the Masters is our crown jewel, but we’re a lot more than just the Masters.”

New industries, expanding businesses, dynamic and responsive institutions of higher education and an enviable geographic location with easy access to the beaches of Georgia and South Carolina and the mountains of Georgia are proving popular draws to this city nestled along the banks of the Savannah River.

“We have a world-class medical institution in the Medical College of Georgia; we have some of the best private employers that have world-renowned names in our community; we have a strong, strong small business base in that individuals who own some very important companies continue to reside in our community and continue to contribute to our community; and we have wonderful nonprofit organizations,” Johnson says. “We have so many great things happening in Augusta.”

Burgeoning Downtown

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Investment Opportunities: Cal Wray, president of the Augusta Economic Development Authority: photo Hillary Kay.

According to Margaret Woodard, executive director of the Downtown Development Authority, 47 new businesses located downtown in 2022, while another 11 expanded. In addition to several new restaurants, downtown also boasts four entertainment venues (including two historic theaters, the James Brown Arena and the Bell Auditorium) and a weekly Saturday market, as well as hosting festivals and special events.

“We have people living downtown now,” she says. “It’s truly a live, work, play environment with 24/7 appeal.”

The city was recently awarded a $2.35 million grant from federal funding secured by Sen. Raphael Warnock to build a microenterprise center, Woodard says. The Hive, short for Headquarters for Innovation, Venture Capital and Entrepreneurship, will be located on Broad Street and will serve as incubator for startups and include an academic component for entrepreneurs.

“The thought process is this, they go through The Hive and get the training and the startup resources they need, and the next step is to move them into a retail business center outside of The Hive where they continue to refine their business principles and refine and test the market,” she says. The goal, she adds, is to eventually move the startups into a brick-and-mortar building downtown.

Though new to the role of mayor (he was sworn in Jan. 3), Johnson is an Augusta native and small business owner. He is the 85th mayor of Augusta-Richmond County, which has a consolidated government structure.

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Augusta’s Aurubis recycling and smelting facility: photo Aurubis.

“I decided to enter into the race just to offer a different perspective on leadership,” he says. “Being a small business owner tends to lead you to be a little more fiscally conservative. I believe these dollars that are granted to our government should be spent with due care.”

Investing in the Future

Operational efficiencies and creating economic opportunities for the city are also top priorities, according to Johnson, who serves on the Georgia Department of Economic Development Board of Directors.

“We recently were fortunate to have a German copper recycler make a significant investment in our community,” he says. “It’s an almost $1 billion investment that will create hundreds of good-paying jobs.”

In November 2021, Hamburg-based Aurubis announced it would invest $340 million in a recycling and copper smelting facility to be built on 150 acres in Richmond County’s Augusta Corporate Park and hire 125 employees. Roughly six months after breaking ground last June, the company announced that Georgia’s largest-ever single German investment was going to get even bigger.

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Operational Excellence: E-Z-Go products manufactured in Augusta: photo contributed.

“They announced a Phase II in December, bringing their total investment to $690 million and 250 jobs,” says Cal Wray, president of the Augusta Economic Development Authority. “It’s been nonstop [since the announcement]. The 150 acres are graded and two buildings are in the air. The first building is expected to be completed in the third quarter and the first smelt will be sometime in 2024.”

The smelting facility will produce copper from recycled cable, e-waste and other metal-bearing material.

On the heels of Aurubis’ ground-breaking last summer, Denkai America announced in July it will build its North American headquarters in Richmond County, making an initial investment of $150 million on a 115-acre site.

“Denkai is a Japanese copper-foil manufacturer that will be located in the industrial park,” Wray says. “Ultimately, Denkai will invest $400 million in their new North American headquarters and manufacturing plant and create 250 jobs.”

Wray says even though the “lion’s share” of projects coming to the community continues to be in the manufacturing sector, it was announced in October that Belgian plastics and chemicals firm Solvay is getting a $178.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy for construction of a production line for polyvinylidene fluoride, or PVDF, at its Augusta site. PVDF is a polymer used as a binder and coating for the separator in lithium-ion batteries, semiconductors and other applications.

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Margaret Woodard, executive director of the Downtown Development Authority: photo contributed.

“We worked $35 billion worth of investment opportunities in the Augusta area last year,” Wray says. “My staff has been here five years and in those five years we’ve announced just over $3 billion worth of investment.”

On top of all of the new economic investment and jobs to be created, Wray says existing companies and manufacturers continue to invest in Augusta and Richmond County.

“Almost all of our manufacturers have announced new jobs, including E-Z-Go, and Starbucks is growing,” he says. “They are all making some form of investment and job creation here.”

E-Z-Go, which is owned by Textron, is a leading global manufacturer of golf cars, utility vehicles and personal transportation vehicles that was founded in Augusta in 1954. E-Z-Go is one of Augusta’s oldest corporate headquarters and employs 1,700, according to Wray. Augusta is also home to FPL Food, a provider of Georgia-grown beef, among others. Also part of the Augusta MSA is Georgia Power’s Plant Vogtle, a nuclear power plant.

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Downtown Augusta: photo contributed.

“We have one of the top 20 most diverse economies in the country,” Wray says. “We’re also in the top 20 in concentration of engineers in the country.”

Educating the Workforce

Helping to train all of those engineers are Augusta University and Augusta Technical College. According to Augusta Tech President Jermaine Whirl, there are about 24,000 people working in advanced manufacturing in the Augusta region and the demand for workers is only growing.

“Our most recent announcement was we were awarded money from the governor and legislature to build an 81,000-square-foot advanced manufacturing and engineering technology training center,” Whirl says. “We were awarded $2.7 million for design and then we’ll get $35 million for construction and then roughly $6.9 million for furniture, fixtures and equipment. It’s definitely our largest capital project in over two decades, so it’s a big deal.”

Located off I-20 in Columbia County, the new advanced manufacturing center will house the college’s engineering technology programs, architectural, computer/electrical, mechanical, and nuclear, machine tool/CNC, chemical technology, industrial automation, mechatronics/robotics, metrology and quality management, hydraulics/pneumatics, additive manufacturing/3D printing and welding programs.

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Advanced Manufacturing: Augusta Tech President Jernaine Whirl stands next to an Amatrol Mechtronics/Robotics Trainer, which is used in the school’s mechatronics program of study: photo: Hillary Kay

“It’s a three year build-out, and we’re expecting to have over 1,300 new students in this building,” Whirl says. “It’s really going to expand our training capacities and get more students into the workforce.”

The new facility will give Augusta Tech the opportunity to nearly double the number of graduates from its School of Aviation, Industrial and Engineering Technology. According to Whirl, the school will graduate 680 students at its summer commencement.

“This building will also allow us to increase our corporate training efforts,” he says. “We provide continuing education for John Deere, Club Car and Starbucks. We’re going to be able to train more incumbent workers.”

Additionally, one of the big goals for the new facility is that it will make manufacturing jobs more attractive to young talent, Whirl says.

“We want to attract middle and high school students to the industry,” he says. “Mom and dad might think of manufacturing jobs as being dirty, dead-end jobs, but this building is being built in a way to simulate what it will look like to work in an actual manufacturing facility today. It’s clean, there’s A/C and the jobs are more neck up, meaning the jobs are more analytical and it’s not manual labor intensive as most people think.”

Jobs that require more critical thinking also come with higher wages, Whirl notes.

“These jobs pay anywhere from $55,000 all the way up to six figures after two to three years on the job,” he says. “Our vision as a college is to be a nationally recognized institution of higher education, so everything we do there is intentional around that. We’re very excited about it.”

Linking Opportunities

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Capital Project: Rendering of Augusta Technical College’s advanced manufacturing and engineering technology training center: photo contributed.

Whirl says he’s also very excited about a partnership between the college, the city of Augusta, First Tee of Augusta and Augusta National Golf Club that will result in the purchase of the Augusta Municipal Golf Course, also known as The Patch, on Jan. 1, 2025. The initiative was announced during Masters Week in April.

“Augusta is the mecca of all things golf because of the Masters Tournament,” he says. “We’ve had a golf management program for over 20 years and so the connection to be able to have a home base where we can train our students at The Patch is a huge deal. Our golf management program will be relocated to The Patch and our turf-grass management program will be relocated there, as well, and then the golf course obviously has a clubhouse, so our culinary students will be able to operate the clubhouse.”

Augusta National Golf Club has committed to updating the current facilities at The Patch, according to Whirl, including installing new greens and renovating the clubhouse.

Screenshot 2023 07 23 At 85520 Pm“It’s going to be one of the best public golf courses in the country when completed,” he says, noting there’s a larger vision at play. “We are creating the world’s first corridor of golf education. First Tee is a K-12 program so after students go through their program, they can come to Augusta Tech for a two-year degree, then go across the street to Augusta University to complete a four-year degree.”

And come January it will be easier for Augusta Tech’s students to transfer to Augusta University via the Augusta Advantage Program, which creates a streamlined pathway for transfer students. Students in this program will have the opportunity to earn their associate degree at Augusta Tech, then receive accelerated admissions to transfer all those credits into eight possible pathways at Augusta University, including business administration, communication, computer science, kinesiology, nursing, political science, psychology, and social work, to earn their bachelor’s degree. These particular pathways were chosen based on “significant workforce needs here and beyond,” according to Augusta University President Brooks Keel.

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Hands-On Learning: Nursing students practice on a dummy at the Medical College of Georgia, the state’s only public medical school: photo contributed.

“What started off as a great partnership in cybersecurity has ballooned beyond into other programs that are important to Georgia’s current and future workforce needs,” Keel says. “We’ve partnered with Augusta Technical College since 2015 for a Cybersecurity to Information Technology Pathway that has proven to be a successful and valuable program for students seeking degrees in this field.”

Cyber Learning

Augusta University also has an agreement with the Army Cyber Center of Excellence to offer several master’s degree programs to its soldiers, Keel says.

“Soldiers easily can transfer into the master’s programs of information security management and intelligence and security studies, mainly,” he says. “National security in general is becoming a huge part of what Fort Gordon does; intelligence and security studies are hugely important for Fort Gordon and our country in general.”

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Enhancing Intelligence: Commanding General of the U.S. Army Center of Excellence and Fort Gordon Maj. Gen. Paul Stanton (left) and Augusta University President Brooks A. Keel, (right) pose with the university’s mascot at a ceremonial signing event: photo Milledge Austin/Augusta University.

Before the Army moved its entire cyber command to Fort Gordon three years ago, Augusta University worked with public and private partners to develop the Georgia Cyber Center to position itself to support not only the Army, but also the businesses that support its mission, Keel says. That focus on cybersecurity, coupled with its biomedical and health science offerings through The Medical College of Georgia, make the university stand out.

“We are also the only university in the USG [University System of Georgia] that has as its mission a dedicated health science university,” he says. “The overall reputation of Augusta University has increased exponentially. I think students now understand what Augusta University is and what makes us unique.

”The Medical College of Georgia (MCG) is the state’s only public medical school and is the eleventh largest medical school in the country. A pending merger means Wellstar will take over the operations of the Augusta University Health System, which is the hospital for MCG. One potential benefit is med students may be able to practice in other parts of the state where Wellstar has facilities.

“We have had year-over-year enrollment growth of approximately 3% since I came in 2015,” Keel says. “We enrolled 9,800 students in the fall, and we were one of only eight universities this past fall in the system that had an increase in enrollment.”

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Enrollment Growth: Augusta University President Brooks A. Keel: photo contributed.

With new partnerships at its colleges and universities, a booming downtown and expanding economic opportunities, it’s clear that Augusta is vibrant, eclectic and open for business.






Local Flavor

Augusta Experiences

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Totally Unique: Bennish Brown, president and CEO of the Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau (Destination Augusta) at Humanitree House, which is part of the experiences tour: photo Hillary Kay.

From its fun and creative logo to a series of excursions being billed as “Authentic Augusta Experiences,” the Garden City of the South is inviting visitors and locals alike to become acquainted with the city in exciting new ways.

“We just rolled out our new Authentic Augusta Experiences, which are 10 immersive experiences based on things that are totally unique for this destination,” says Bennish Brown, president and CEO of the Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau (Destination Augusta). “As you do any of these 10 experiences, it really appeals to multiple senses: You can smell, touch, see, hear. We’re taking these experiences beyond show and tell.”

You can become a citizen scientist for the day at Phinizy Center and Nature Park, collecting specimens from wetlands and working with a staff scientist to analyze findings; have tea and pie with President Woodrow Wilson’s mother at the boyhood home of Wilson, that serves as a house museum depicting the life of the 28th president (it’s the oldest presidential residence in the state); and play a role as a new hire at Enterprise Mill circa 1880, where employees are paid in scrip to spend at the company store.

“The Phinizy Center really is a wetlands area and it does monitor the drinking water for the city of Augusta,” Brown says. “These experiences are true to us; it’s Augusta being Augusta.”

As home of the Masters Tournament, the list of immersive experiences would be incomplete without one dedicated to the storied tournament held every April at Augusta National Golf Club.

“Augusta’s Black Caddies: Men on the Bag,” offers visitors the opportunity to hear the caddies’ stories that capture some of the most significant moments in the game of golf like Gene Sarazen’s “shot around the world,” to Jack Nicklaus’s victories, to riding with President Eisenhower. For nearly 50 years, the caddies for the Masters were Black employees of Augusta National Golf Club. But a miscommunication, which led to some caddies missing a morning tee time at the 1982 tournament, paved the way for players to bring the caddies they employed year-round on the PGA Tour beginning in 1983.

“My emotional favorite, which is so authentic to Augusta, is the story of the ‘Black Caddies: Men on the Bag’ that is hosted by the Laney Museum of Black History,” Brown says. “They have actors portraying real caddies [who] worked at Augusta National. They bring those characters to life during their presentations. After…the re-enactment, there will be at least one still living caddy at the presentation to answer questions and to provide again that first-person, real look at the life of a caddy.”

Like the proverbial cherry on top, at the end, visitors can sip Arnold Palmer tea with lemonade with these legends. The experience is scheduled for the second or third weekend of each month through December.

Categories: East Central, Our State