Working to connect USC Aiken and Aiken Technical College with the rest of the community should be seen as a must for Aiken moving forward.
By most any metric, creating this interconnectivity between these nationally recognized higher education institutions and the community as a whole will be a boost for both.
On the front end, this should be seen as making sure students have jobs locally after graduating. Aiken and Aiken County have done an admirable job recruiting retail and manufacturing businesses over the past few years. More can be done, though.
Thankfully, the wake-up call for business recruitment has been ringing more loudly as of late. Recent benchmark reports sponsored by the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce offered a stark, yet needed truth that our community isn’t on a sustainable course of development for the future. The initial report released in 2013 indicated that Aiken County’s growth rate has slowed, while Aiken’s growth rate is approaching zero and could potentially go into the red. The 2014 report offered a more rosy picture, but still brought only cautious optimism.
Continuing efforts to pinpoint the difficulties of starting a business in Aiken should be a key objective for the City and create a greater sense of confidence for the future. Also, a new position recently created by the City of Aiken – a business vitality manager – is a proactive step in sparking this needed sustainable business environment in our community.
While these steps will help retain recently graduated students in our community, these efforts must extend beyond just increasing an awareness for jobs. This is also about cultivating a greater entertainment and cultural hub in Aiken, particularly downtown.
The increased building height approved by Aiken City Council in October, which will help facilitate a $10 million renovation of Hotel Aiken, is an excellent step in fostering a more vibrant atmosphere. Having a downtown hub of activity will draw in people throughout the community, but especially students and young professionals.
It was also positive to see both candidates for mayor this year recognizing this reality and trying to make it a priority in their campaigns. With Rick Osbon set to take office on Nov. 23, let’s hope he makes strengthening these relationships one of his first priorities.
USC Aiken has about 3,200 students and could be seeing even more in the future as it continues to be recognized for its efforts to offer both an affordable and quality education. Similarly, Aiken Technical College should also be seen as a resource that can be utilized for community growth moving forward.
A stable future for our community will be made easier through keeping our talent here in Aiken. Local officials should work diligently to galvanize such an environment in our community and make sure these goals became a reality.