The future of SRS: Aiken’s economy

December 5, 2013

The Savannah River Site has obviously taken enormous hits in recent months.

Dating back to September, SRS contractors announced nearly 1,000 layoffs and 1,700 furloughs. The cuts were all direct or indirect results of the fiscal year 2014 federal budget and October’s government shutdown.

While SRS did receive funding after the shutdown, the amount was only $318 million in temporary funds; roughly 25 percent of its $1.2 billion request. Furthermore, funding will only last until Jan. 15. At that time, the site will be vying for full funding or another continuing resolution.

Local leaders have accessed several points of interest concerning the SRS budget crisis.

Advocacy

Local leaders said they are working to lessen the current and potential impacts of SRS funding. Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce President and CEO David Jameson is looking to uphold advocacy for the Site. He stated that four area Chambers collaborate annually for SRS.

“Approximately 25 years ago, an annual regional leadership trip to D.C. was jointly created by the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce, the Aiken Chamber of Commerce and the North Augusta Chamber of Commerce, Jameson said.

“When the Columbia County Chamber was created, they were added as the fourth player.”

Jameson added the trip usually includes about 40 business, government, education and civic leaders. The two states account for four senators and four to six congressman.

Their combined efforts help symbolize a strong community support for SRS in Washington, D.C., he said.

Aiken Mayor Fred Cavanaugh praised the trip.

“It’s that type of interaction that keeps SRS in the conversation on a national level,” Cavanaugh said. “We get the opportunity to speak to a lot of legislators and the outcome is always positive.”

While advocacy is strong, Jameson admitted to being shocked by the lack of urgency among local residents. Economic Development Partnership Director Will Williams shared those sentiments.

“Aiken and the region seems to have ‘SRS fatigue,’” said Jameson. “I’m very surprised that there has not been outrage from SRS employees and from the general public over budget cuts at SRS. Why are people so reluctant to speak out?”

Williams added, “I am also shocked by the apathy that the community has toward recent downsizing at the site. We have a very vocal group in our community actively fighting progress in Aiken now (Hitchcock Parkway improvements), but there is no vocal group doing likewise over job loss and budget issues at SRS.”

Employment and growth

Reports indicate that every job at SRS accounts for 2.5 jobs in Aiken County. Because of that, Jameson said the Chamber has created strong ties with the Economic Development Partnership and other organizations. Williams said the job losses at the Site not only affect individual families, but local businesses as well.

“For every job that is lost at SRS, I have to find 2-2.5 jobs in the industrial community to replace the spending capacity in the community,” Williams said. “If I were to replace the 1,400 jobs that were lost from Oct. 1, 2012, to Oct. 1, 2013, at SRS, I would have to find 3,500 new jobs, which is the equivalent of a new Kimberly Clark and Bridgestone.”

The trickle-down effect of unemployment is quality of life. Williams said he feels the county’s business landscape has been at risk in recent months. Less money circulating in the community would drive the quality of life down.

“The economic impact the site provides Aiken allows us to have nice shops, restaurants and homes,” he said. “It’s part of the ‘quality of life’ aspect that everyone looks for in a place to live. Aiken’s quality of life allows us to appeal to potential industrial companies and their trailing spouses.”

Current actions

Jameson reported that he, Williams and Rick McLeod from the SRS Community Reuse Organization are working to push legislative actions for SRS. He added that their individual groups have spent the last month and will spend the next month pushing for actions on a local and state level.

“We have requested that the South Carolina Congressional Delegation, along with the governor, develop a strategy to help stabilize the SRS budget during the pending January budget fight,” Jameson said. “Without a unified SRS funding strategy by the delegation and the governor, SRS will lose at least another $100 million in funding, which will equate to at least 500 more jobs.”

Locally, Williams is focused on the Applied Research Center – a facility that helps leverage technologies that exist at SRS and bring them to the commercialization forefront. In addition, the effort may attract new partnerships and opportunities.

Cavanaugh added that he is in constant talks with U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., about SRS funding.

“Local leaders realize that we have to talk to our other elected officials and, hopefully, they can get the point across in Washington that we need SRS,” Cavanaugh said. “Our Site has been good and necessary for the country.”

Available Sites & Buildings

If you’re thinking about bringing your business to South Carolina’s Aiken, Edgefield, and Saluda region, we’re ready to accommodate you with a broad variety of existing facilities and ready-to-build sites.

Infrastructure

Infrastructure

When you’re competing in the global marketplace, connectivity and fast access are critical. The Aiken, Edgefield, McCormick, and Saluda region’s location in western South Carolina will put your business at the heart of a very fluid transportation grid, no matter which modes are important for you.