While the tattered edges of hurricane Isadore may have threatened to swamp the opening days of the 37th annual Columbia County Merchants Association fair, its a pretty good bet that the rest of the week offers plenty of dry days - maybe even a little cool weather.
The fair gets bigger and better every year, and serves as a signature event for the Merchants Association. And its not just about fun and games, though there are plenty of those at Columbia Countys oldest public event. Funds raised at the fair and other Merchants Association functions provide significant support to local charities, including the Columbia County Foundation for Children, Columbia County Cares and the Martinez-Evans Little League.
Perhaps more importantly, the fair has allowed the Merchants Association to showcase its long-standing commitment to the community. The fairground itself is a monument to the forward-thinking organization, and each year the Columbia Road site is used more and more by other groups needing space for outdoor events.
Not long after the fair, in fact, the fairgrounds will be used for a major barbecue cook-off, and as the venue for display of the traveling version of the Vietnam memorial wall. Without the Merchants Association, such a site would be tough to find.
ts worth pondering what that vision means - not just regarding the fairgrounds, but for a larger issue confronting the business community. Columbia County these days is in the throes of uncertainty about the future of its relationship with the Metro Augusta Chamber of Commerce. In fact, some members of the Columbia County Chamber are in the process of incorporating the agency as a standalone entity, mostly in response to recent turmoil in the regional chamber.
The effort is admirable. In fact, this newspaper has long advocated a stronger role for Columbia County in any regional partnership. While it is clear economic development is best done through a regional approach, Columbia Countys Chamber has for too long been a junior member in this region.
But if any part of this incorporation push is designed to boost networking among local businesses, the time - and any money - would be better spent linking with the Merchants Association. Not only is it a proven entity that has thrived for 40 years, but it also lacks the regional entanglements that, rightly or wrongly, some people distrust in any chamber relationship.
Were just a group of men who wanted to get together and make this a better place than it was when we got here, says Merchants Association President Billy Becton, sounding just the right note for what a community organization should be all about.
his process of Columbia County coming into its own has been long delayed. Its too important to now become nothing more than a petty turf war with our neighbors, leaving both sides weakened and less effective.
Nurturing existing Columbia County businesses is a different matter, and for that, the best bet is the Merchants Association. Anyone who just wants to play games ought to instead visit the fair.
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