Although the trade and service sectors supply the majority of jobs in Georgia, manufacturing and agriculture remain important to the state’s economy. Cotton, once Georgia’s most valuable crop, has declined in importance; in the 1990s, it was rivaled by peanuts, tobacco and corn. The manufacture of textiles and textile products has long been Georgia’s leading industry, centering mainly on Columbus, Augusta, Macon and Rome. Other major manufactures include transportation equipment, foods, paper products and chemicals. Although the state is rich in minerals, mining is not as important as manufacturing and agriculture. Many of those industries are present in Augusta-Richmond counties.
Augusta-Richmond County is a regional center of medicine, biotechnology and cyber security. Augusta University, one of the four public research universities in the University System of Georgia, employs over 7,000 people. Along with University Hospital, the Medical District of Augusta employs over 25,000 people and has an economic impact of over $1.8 billion.
The city’s three largest employers are Augusta University, Richmond County School System and the combined facilities at Fort Gordon. Despite layoffs from several companies during the U.S. economic recession and a relatively high state unemployment rate, the Augusta community has experienced a decrease in bankruptcy filings and saw a marked decrease in the unemployment rate from June 2009 to August 2017. However, these unemployment numbers are misleading as spring brings lower unemployment rates due to the Masters Golf Tournament. Unemployment fell from 10.1 percent in June 2009 to
3.5 percent in November 2018.
Columbia County offers a powerful set of world-class advantages in location, labor and access to leading assets in energy, technology, healthcare and defense. Those include nearby Fort Gordon, home of the U.S. Army Cyber Command; the Savannah River Site; Plant Vogtle Nuclear Power Plant; and a health care hub including Augusta University, Georgia’s newest research university. Companies such as John Deere, GIW Industries and Janus Research Group continue to grow in Columbia County.
In the nation’s 35th fastest growing county, incomes are nearly 30 percent higher than the national average, and personal satisfaction is flourishing. In Columbia County, there are great schools, expanding retail and responsive leadership in a beautiful Georgia setting.
The median age in Augusta-Richmond County is about 33 years old and 36 years old in Columbia County, meaning the workforce skews younger. Median household income in Augusta-Richmond County is $39,258 and $74,162 in Columbia County, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Staying on Track
The 1830s were a period of major infrastructure projects and the coming of the railroad in Augusta-Richmond and Columbia counties. In 1833, the first train ran 136 miles from Charleston to Hamburg, South Carolina. Hamburg was just across the river from Augusta.
When the Georgia Railroad was being established there were some issues in Augusta-Richmond and Columbia counties. Columbia County judges determined that having trains passing near Appling (the de factor county seat) would disturb their proceedings; they insisted that the railway line that was built in the county from Atlanta to Augusta pass well south of Appling. Originally, Augusta wouldn’t let a railroad bridge be built across the Savannah River. The city changed its mind in 1837 when told that Augusta would be bypassed. Augusta quickly agreed to a bridge. The railroad bridge was built, and the tracks leading to Athens were connected.
Some 25 years later, the state not only could claim more rail miles than any other in the Deep South but also had linked its major towns and created a new rail center in Atlanta.
By the 1920s, railroads covered almost all of Georgia, and the period would prove to be the high point of railroad service in the state, although some residents of mountain counties had never seen a train other than the log-haulers.
Passenger service declined steadily after 1920, except for a brief resurgence during World War II. Automobiles were becoming affordable for the average family, and an ever-rising number of new drivers called for improved roads. As the roads improved, rail passenger numbers declined. The low point came in the 1960s and 1970s, as the great terminal stations and union stations in Atlanta, Augusta and Savannah were demolished. Hundreds of small-town depots were likewise torn down, moved or converted to other uses.
A declining passenger business, however, was a small part of the railroads’ decline; they continued to lose the much-larger freight business to trucks, and they could not attract the capital investment to maintain thousands of miles of lightly used track.
Passenger service, which never disappeared entirely, is available on two Amtrak routes. One route, known as the Crescent, runs from New York to Washington, D.C., through north Georgia and Atlanta and on to New Orleans. The other runs from New York to the Georgia coast and on to Florida.
Today, the state’s rail system is a strong, 5,000-mile network anchored by two major lines, Norfolk Southern and CSX, and a couple dozen shortlines. Railroads are still a major part of Georgia’s freight infrastructure. The port of Savannah — the fourth-busiest container port in the country in 2015 — and the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport both depend on Georgia’s interstates and railroads together to ship goods into the interior of the country. By 2014 CSX, one of the two largest rail operators in the state, had handled more than 1.9 million carloads of freight in Georgia and was operating nearly 27,000 miles of track.
Agriculture was essential to Georgia’s economy during its first two centuries, beginning with the settlement by English colonists, led by Gen. James E. Oglethorpe, in Savannah in 1733. Silk and indigo, both in demand in England, were early export commodities. By 1767, almost a ton of silk per year was exported to England. Georgia’s mild climate offered perfect conditions for growing cotton, which became the dominant commodity after the American Revolution. Its production under the plantation system and shipment through the Port of Savannah helped the city’s European immigrants achieve wealth and prosperity. The invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney in 1793 while he was visiting a friend near Savannah revolutionized the cotton industry. With the construction of the Augusta Canal in 1847, Augusta became the second-largest inland cotton market in the world during the cotton boom.
Growing cotton almost exclusively proved to have ravaging effects on the soil. That, and the onset of a boll weevil infestation, led to the decline of cotton growth in the state. Cotton is no longer “king” in Georgia, but cotton sales still accounted for more than 18 percent of the total cash receipts for agricultural production in 2015.
Today, agriculture still accounts for much of the state’s economy. Many U.S. residents wouldn’t have fruit, meat and nuts if it wasn’t for Georgia’s agriculture. The state is known as the No. 1 pecan producer in the world and is among the leading producers of blueberries, peaches, peanuts and poultry products. Agribusiness accounts for $72 billion annually of the state’s economy, with one in seven Georgians working in agriculture, forestry or a related field, according to the Georgia Farm Bureau.
The area’s largest employer, Fort Gordon expends more than $2 billion annually in the Central Savannah River Area (CSRA) from an annual budget of $818 million, while providing human resources that strengthen the area’s quality of life and the effectiveness of its workforce. Expected to rise by 4,000 with the Cyber Center of Excellence, the Fort Gordon population currently includes an on-post population of approximately 26,776 military, family members and civilians, with an off-post population of more than 77,680 military and civilian family members and retirees.
Soon to be one of the nation’s top cyber technology centers, and the single point of contact for external organizations regarding cyberspace and information operations, Fort Gordon offers prime opportunity for private and governmental contractors and for technology and information companies across a wide spectrum. For more information about the U.S. Army Cyber Center of Excellence, visit http://cybercoe.army.mil.