Many of the cash-register bells will be ringing at grocery stores, niche retailers and Wal-Mart this holiday season in Columbia County.
But that isn't enough music for some officials, who want to see more shopping choices for shopping within the county.
"I think that as we're reaching 100,000 in population, we're primed for advancement," said Zack Daffin, executive director of the Columbia County Development Authority.
As the county's economic developer, Daffin's job includes trying to woo new industrial and manufacturing employers. But he also recognizes the opportunity for increasing the number of retail choices.
"One of my focus has been trying to encourage a lifestyle or some type of shopping center here," he said. "We think we have the income base and the population size to support additional restaurants, to support a shopping center - an upscale shopping center."
Julie Mackendree shops for Christmas decorations at Fat Man's West in Evans the day after Thanksgiving.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
The benefits would be a boost to the amount of sales-tax revenue generated in the county and the creation of new jobs, he said.
Those increases happened last year when the Super Wal-Mart and the hub of stores that developed around it in Evans.
Though state revenue officials said they could not extract how much sales tax was generated just from the Wal-Mart store, the county did receive more than $860,000 in sales tax money in 2002 than it had in the year before it opened.
County Administrator Steve Szablewski said Columbia County residents are spending $600 million outside the county, according to information from the U.S. Census Bureau. That means the county is potentially losing out on $18.9 million in sales-tax money that could help fund its operations, he said.
But when it comes to the spending of disposable income, Richmond County is seeing a surplus of money, Columbia County Board of Commissioners Chairman Ron Cross said.
"They get in about 30 more percent than they have to spend," he said. "So that's people from Aiken, North Augusta, Columbia County going to Richmond County buying goods and services."
Cross said the key to recapturing some of that last sales-tax revenue is to work on expanding the commercial base within the county.
"Some people don't like commercial development," he said, "but when your money's flying out the door to other counties because they offer more opportunities and selection, then you have to do something."
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