AIKEN COUNTY, SC (WFXG) - Downtown Aiken is in the middle of a makeover. The city is spending millions of tax dollars in an effort to attract more visitors and current residents to come out. But just a short drive away, people on the North Side feel like they're on the short end of the stick.
The Alley in Downtown Aiken (WFXG)
Welcome to Downtown Aiken. Walking down the street you see restaurants, start-up businesses, a place where opportunities seem as endless as the folks coming in to see the annual triple crown or steeplechase. The so-called "Aiken Renaissance" is a plan that council members have in place for attracting more dining, shopping, anything to bring out more people. But less than ten minutes away, the situation is very different.
"I feel there's not enough agencies out here actually putting people and good jobs," says Matthew Cooks, a resident of Aiken's north side. He's noticed the changes for Downtown Aiken and Project Jackson in North Augusta. His only question: when will the north side get its turn? "There's no reason why they deserve it and we don't."
Aiken Mayor Rick Osbon (WFXG)
"Why is it the way it is now? Well, all the growth is happening in a certain area.When that happens, other places get left behind and that's kind of what happened to the North Side," says Vice Chairman of Aiken County Council, Andrew Siders. "It's easier for businesses when growth goes that way to say, 'OK everything is happening here, so that's where we want to be.'"
It opens the door for alarming statistics. The Bureau of Labor Statistics gives South Carolina a 4.7% unemployment rate compared to the national average of 4.4%. Cooks is part of that percentage. The main goal for a business like Aiken Personnel Services is to serve as a gateway for people finding jobs. Managers tell me around forty to fifty people come in daily, looking for jobs. Half of them are from the North Side.
An Aiken Personnel Services employee speaks with a potential hire (WFXG)
"I think you're going to see more growth actually starting to occur in different directions west, north and north is the main Corridor in," says Mayor Rick Osborn. Osborn believes it's not a matter of if, but when.
Cooks wishes the north side didn't have to wait for the growth to come to it. "We're not putting enough effort into it ourselves to show them we want this side to look like that side because there's no reason why they deserve it and we don't."
But until something changes, part of the county will continue to push forward while another side takes a back seat. There is no set timetable for when downtown Aiken's makeover will be finished, but some estimates say it could wrap up before 2020.