In many ways, 2004 was an unusual year for business in our area. A lot of companies I thought for certain would have announced new locations in Valdosta by the end of the year never came to pass, while others surprised me.

There were some terrific new ventures this year, but others who tried new businesses didn't quite make it, particularly in the restaurant arena. A locally owned, small business always faces a tougher time than a corporate business does, and this year was no exception.

On the bright side, however, there were some terrific new companies to locate here and some local entrepreneurs were also able to expand their businesses. All in all, 2004 was a good year once again for our area, although perhaps not as good as we might have hoped.

Among the more exciting news:

Even though the time for the mall expansion has been pushed back, it will still be exciting to see 10 to 12 new stores, and possibly more, come to our city.

The national chains, from Lowes to Best Buy to Rugged Wearhouse, that have located here this year have boosted our visibility on the radar for others to follow and have also helped solidify this community's place as a regional shopping venue.

New restaurants such as Locos, Whataburger, and Nataluccis and additional locations for Applebees, Sonic, Wendys and others have also expanded the choices for diners throughout the county. Expansions of the Bistro and Lulu's downtown, along with the new Truffles and Hildegards, helped offset the losses of the Grits Mill Cafe and Sojourners.

Valdostans won't be at a loss for an apartment any time soon as a major new development, Northwinds, opened and the new apartment complex off Lankford Drive will add hundreds more to the community. Coupled with the major housing expansion at VSU, and there shouldn't by any problems finding a place to live soon, particularly if you are a student.

And the expansion of housing developments has been tremendous this year, with new subdivisions all along the Bemiss corridor, in addition to Hwy. 41 N. and the Hahira areas. The community seems to be absorbing the new houses, though, which is a good sign that we're still growing.

But I'm also looking ahead to the new year and hoping that finally, the Olive Garden that everyone thinks they want will actually find a piece of property that suits them. A Carabbas, a TGI Fridays, a Chilis, along with Old Navy, Limited, Dillards and Stein Mart round out that list. We'll see what develops in 2005, but I'm an optimist and hope that by this time next year, they'll all be committed to coming and I'll have an entirely different list of wishes.

Business Roundup

It looks like Winn Dixie has a buyer for its Crackin Good bakery and the company will be able to stay open after all. Employees report that a company from out of state is purchasing the bakery, with plans to upgrade the facility and potentially expand it. The deal is expected to be finalized in January, and I'll have more details on it then, but this is hopefully good news for nearly 200 employees.

Inner Perimeter is getting to be a busy place to build as it looks like Steve Hall Flooring is also building a new location near the post office.

I had a call this week from McCurdy Hardware saying they are excited to be open at 1820 S. Patterson next to HC Wilkerson. The new business offers all things a typical hardware store usually does, as well as lumber and a full line of mobile home supplies.

I understand more physicians are building along the North Valdosta Road corridor, so business must be good. I expect both hospitals to announce expansions in various departments this year, as this area is also a large regional draw in the medical field.

I'm technically on vacation, so that's about it for this week, but I hope to have more news next week. Please call me if you know something I've missed.

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