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CITY TALK: Proposed merger will likely benefit Savannah economy

In Sunday’s City Talk, I mentioned the possibility of surprises for the Savannah area economy in 2017.

We got one of those surprises after that column was written but before it was published.

As you probably know by now, the Board of Regents is poised to vote this week on the proposed merger of Georgia Southern University and Armstrong State University.

For the record, I began teaching at Armstrong in the fall of 2000, and I’ve had a full load of four classes per semester for a number of years.

I’m not going to discuss the bureaucratic complexities in this column, but I might occasionally discuss some of the broader economic impacts of the merger.

And it seems extremely likely a GSU-ASU merger would be good news for the Savannah economy and especially for the Southside.

Given the proximity to Savannah’s major employers and myriad cultural offerings, the Armstrong campus seems likely to grow after the merger. That likely means more employees and higher average salaries.

Also, the merger might spur faster physical expansion, with all the attendant spillover benefits.

Some months ago, Armstrong administrators began a master planning process for the campus, and there’s a huge empty field immediately adjacent to the campus along Abercorn Street.

There’s also a large parcel directly across from Armstrong. Commonly called the “triangle site,” the undeveloped land is primarily bounded by Abercorn Street, Middleground Road and Mohawk Street.

About a decade ago, university leaders considered the sale of the triangle site, but that never happened.

How could the campus expand across Abercorn Street? Take a look at Mercer University’s new pedestrian bridge across a wide roadway in Macon. That’s just one design option.

Beyond the potential government investment, the expansion of the campus would likely spur considerable private investment.

Over 1,400 students currently live in Armstrong housing, but the nearby retail landscape doesn’t really reflect that fact. As the campus grows, we’re more likely to see the types of retail stores and restaurants that cater to college students and employees.

Could we see similar growth of the Armstrong campus without a merger? Sure, but a merger will likely create momentum for more investment, resources and possibilities.

Could a merger have the opposite effect? Could it cause the Armstrong campus to shrink? That seems exceedingly unlikely for a host of reasons.

Let me say again that the proposed merger raises many questions and one could identify many drawbacks. But the economic impacts will likely be positive for the Savannah area.

City Talk appears every Sunday and Tuesday. Bill Dawers can be reached via billdawers@comcast.net. Send mail to 10 E. 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.

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