Economic indicators from 2010 show that Columbia County saw spiked retail spending but generated less interest from new businesses to locate in the county.
Sales tax revenues, an indicator of the spending power of the county populace, improved to pre-recession status this year.
"Currently, through the month of October ...we are up 13.15 percent from the previous year," county Finance Director Leanne Reece said.
Though figures from November and December were not available last week, Reece said the growth counters a two-year trend of suppressed spending.
"We ended the 2009 year with a decrease of 5.3 percent," she said. "In 2008, we ended with a slight decline of 0.22 percent."
It was in 2006 when the county's sales tax revenues last showed an improvement from the prior year, when revenues for the 1 percent sales tax grew 27.35 percent.
Like sales tax revenues, the number of issued building permits also tells a story about the county's economic strength.
A look at 2010 building figures in Columbia County reveals a stark difference between commercial and single-family residential permits recorded since 2008.
While new residential construction rose nearly 71 percent since 2008, the number of commercial permits dropped by about 75 percent.
Through November, the county's Development Services Division issued 1,017 single-family residential permits. During that period of 2009, 881 permits were given out, and 594 were issued in 2008.
On the commercial side, 27 permits were issued through November 2010, down from 56 in 2009 and 108 in 2008.
Despite the contrast, Development Services Director Richard Harmon believes that as more developers take notice of the booming residential activity in the county, retail construction will follow.
"Housetops lead to commercial," he said. "The residential (permits) just kept coming in. Historically when you see that, you know the commercial is going to come behind it."
Harmon also noted that the county will become more attractive for commercial developers when the latest area population figures are released from the 2010 census.
"Once you hit that pivotal mark of over 100,000 (people), then they really start looking at you," he said.
Through November, the county saw a 20 percent decrease in new businesses since last year, when 1,000 new licenses were issued.
The county recorded just 800 licenses in 2010.
Many residents found a plethora of new "mom-and-pop" style restaurants to choose from in the county this year.
Among them were Pickles Cafe & Grille, opening in November on Furys Ferry Road; Pho Bac Vietnamese, opening in December on Evans Towne Centre Drive; and Bo Daddy's American Grille in Evans, which has since closed.
This year brought the opening of several other businesses and retail structures, including Augusta Marine on Belair Frontage Road, CVS Pharmacy and McDonald's in Riverwood Town Center, Golden Corral on Bobby Jones Expressway and Stanton Optical at Wash- ington and Old Evans roads. A Comfort Inn hotel also opened on Jimmie Dyess Parkway in June.
Though Harmon doesn't expect much interest from big-box retailers in the immediate future, he said more specialty stores likely will open.
"I think the days of the big boxes are pretty much gone for a while," he said.
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