If recent business news is any indication, 2004 is shaping up to be a boom year for Columbia County. Consider:
* The Jones Auto Group is nearing completion of its Columbia Square auto dealerships. Construction is underway on the Hank Aaron Jaguar/Land Rover dealership nearby on Washington Road. And another auto retailer has bought a parcel of land between those two dealers.
* Three new or expanding retail strips are under construction on Washington Road near Wal-Mart, with others on the drawing board for Grovetown and the Furys Ferry Road area. Landowner Frank Mullins says he is in negotiations to bring a new Target store to his Evans site. And Kroger is set to build a new "boutique" grocery store near Furys Ferry and Evans-to-Locks roads.
* County officials recently dedicated International Parkway, a road that not only connects Chamblin and Lewiston roads, but that links the rest of the world to the new 260-acre Horizon North Industrial Park. Nearby, development officials are in negotiations for more land that could be available for expansion of Horizon South.
* Club Car recently rolled out the revolutionary new Precedent golf car that will be built in its Evans plant, and Quebecor World is in the process of a $35 million modification of its printing facility in Evans.
The best part? With the exception of International Parkway - a sales-tax funded road - all of these projects are free-market driven. Private businesses are judging Columbia County an attractive place to do business.
Because the bulk of Columbia County's government and community services are funded by taxes paid by homeowners, more business takes some of the load off.
Of course, every announcement also carries with it the possibility that county bureaucrats and officials will see dollar signs and make plans for spending the windfall. Fortunately, even with a questionable expenditure here and there - a certain logo debate comes to mind - Columbia County officials generally do a good job of managing the people's money.
More commercial and industry tax money couldn't come at a better time. State budget cuts have lopped nearly $4 million from Columbia County's schools; the system has gotten by with smart budgeting and by drawing from reserves. More local dollars from an improved economy would be a great relief - not just to schools, but to homeowners footing most of the bill.
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