After its founding, in 1828, Columbus, Ga., was a textile town. Cotton was the cash crop, and its manufacture was the primary industry. But as the 20th century progressed and farms and mills became less profitable, the city—just two hours south of Atlanta on the Chattahoochee River—diversified. “Columbus is now the home of a variety of ‘home-grown’ industries, from banking, investment, and insurance to high-tech materials fabrication and aircraft manufacturing,” says Timothy Jensen, managing director of local firm Hecht Burdeshaw Architects.
The latter industries were spurred by the presence of the Fort Benning Army base, which was established in 1918. But the base doesn’t just propel industry—it’s becoming the main population driver since it was chosen for expansion by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) in 2005.
“Our region will experience approximately 12 percent growth in population within the next three years,” explains Michael Dunbar, senior vice president of the Columbus Chamber of Commerce. “That equates to roughly 30,000 new residents.” As a result, building is booming as developers and town officials brace for increased demand for on- and off-base housing, medical facilities, and schools.
“According to a Wall Street Journal story, the estimated economic impact of the Super Bowl on Tampa is $300 million,” Dunbar says. “The impact of BRAC on the Columbus region is more than 10.6 times more than the Super Bowl in construction alone.”
2008 population: 187,046. Fort Benning’s growth is expected to create 17,000 jobs.
2008 median home value: $119,600.
- Public–private partnerships
- Relatively affordable housing
- Consolidated city/county government
- Urgent need for schools
- Strained infrastructure
- Managing sprawl
“Some [are] scared to move forward,” says Leah Braxton, vice president of W.C. Bradley Co. Real Estate. Bradley, however, is continuing its Eagle & Phenix Mills project and working on others. “Growth is coming. We need to make the best of this wonderful economic impact. If we plan well, many will reap rewards.”