When asked how they would spend $1 million in District 6, all of the Augusta Commission candidates emphasized one thing: economic development.
Criss-crossed by Peach Orchard and Tobacco Roads, District 6 is filled with established subdivisions whose residents have long wondered when West Augusta-style retail would reach them.
Three men are now running to replace term-limited District 6 Commissioner Ben Hasan in the May 24 election. They joined the contest after Hasan’s brother, an administrator of the AK Hasan school system, decided to run for mayor and was kicked out of the district by state politicians.
Candidate Jeremy Johnson is a retired veteran who owns a property management company that he says focuses exclusively on Augusta, not Columbia or Aiken counties.
“South Augusta in particular has a lot of undeveloped commercial properties, so we’re seeing things that are in other parts of Augusta — high-end hotels, restaurants, that sort of thing — that aren’t in the south of Augusta, and it’s not because of the lack of land, it’s because of the lack of business,” Johnson said.
Johnson, who first answered the question at a forum on Saturday, said his approach would be to use the million dollars to create business incentive programs, particularly for existing “side businesses”, in order to develop their activities. But the program would have a condition, he said.
“The only caveat is that I would add to these business incentive programs that senior management and/or ownership must reside in Augusta,” he said. “One of the unspoken issues we have in Augusta is a one-sided relationship, which is Augusta is good enough for you to come to Augusta, but you live and spend your money in Columbia County or in Aiken County.”
Candidate Mario D. Taylor Sr. is a former local government employee who owns a small business, trucking and logistics company. Taylor said he would use the money to help small entrepreneurs get bigger.
“Over the past two years, we have seen many limited liability companies and tax identification numbers appear since the start of the pandemic. But what they don’t tell you is that 90% of small businesses fail in the first three to five years, and that comes from lack of resources, lack of complete business plans,” said Taylor.
“The key is for every business to start as a small business,” he said. “Just imagine if John Schnatter from Jeffersonville, Ind., was told his pizza place is too small to be here. It’s at Papa John’s now. My thing is, we take care of the food first. home and then take care of others,” he said.
Candidate Tony Lewis, a retiree from the Savannah River site, is making his third bid for the seat.
“There is a lack of retail in particular. There isn’t a single dining hall, a proper dining hall, in South Augusta. With everything you have, go to Washington Road or Robert C. Daniel (Augusta Exchange mall) in this area,” Lewis said.
“So having that million dollars, what I would do is use it to not only attract retail development and retail businesses, but also to retain those businesses,” he said. he declares. “We need to do a better job of tracking those restaurant levels and those retail markets south of Augusta.”
The million dollar question has some basis in reality. The 2022 budget includes an additional $1 million each for the 10 commissioners and the mayor to spend in their districts on projects of their choosing.
Candidates spoke at an unusual forum hosted by Augusta mayoral candidate Lori Myles this included modeling womenswear and lemonade in Myles’ campaign pink color. The 15 candidates were invited but only seven participated.