Thursday, December 18, 2008

Retail Recruitment Team Gears Up for Atlanta

Retail recruitment is the focus as the Economic and Community Development team from Marshall County prepares for the upcoming International Council of Shopping Centers Southeast Conference in Atlanta Oct. 5-7.
JECDB Director Mike Wiles heads up the team of Chamber of Commerce representatives, Ritaanne Weaver, executive director and Barry White, board member, Terry Wallace, City of Lewisburg Director of Economic and Community Development and Greg Lowe, Codes Enforcement Officer, Mike Hatten, Town Administrator of Chapel Hill and Taylor Brandon, Town Administrator of Cornersville.
“We have a good group of people from Marshall County heading down to Atlanta,” Wiles said. “Together, we will have a strong presence to meet with developers and retailers looking to bring retail to Marshall County.”
The team will set up a booth displaying all that Marshall County has to offer and will provide materials of specific information on available commercial sites, demographics and local incentives. The team will take turns at the booth talking to interested developers and retailers with other members of the team meeting face-to-face with other developers and retailers in an effort to show them why Marshall County is the place to come and do business.
“We’ve seen significant growth in the retail area in the past five years from Wal-Mart and Walgreens to ACE Hardware and Peebles,” Wiles said. “But, we can grow even more and broaden our retail.”
Economic development experts from the state and other related organizations have suggested that Marshall County raise its retail employment percentage to balance out its top-heavy industrial employment percentage. Marshall County had been at 48 percent industrial compared to just 12 percent retail; but in the past five years, retail has grown to just under 20 percent bringing industrial to around 35 percent. Ideally, those two percentages should be close to even due to the mobile nature of industry in recent years. Today, keeping a county’s industrial base and growing it remains essential but it is also crucial to expand retail and services to maintain a strong employment base. A county that relies too much on industrial employment can become vulnerable as Marshall County learned when ICP closed its doors in 2001.
Fortunately, Marshall County has recovered quite well from the loss of 2,000 jobs in 2001 when ICP closed. Unemployment dropped from 14 percent to 8 percent and sales tax revenue is up over last year a half a million dollars for Marshall County. The average household income in Marshall County ranks 4th out of our 13-county region and in the top quarter of the state and our poverty rate ranks only behind Moore County at 12.5 percent (down from 18.3 percent in 2000) and ranks 11th in the state. These factors have helped Marshall County jump from a Tier III community to a Tier II community ranking by the state. Tier III communities are those that are most economically distressed, a ranking Marshall County had until this year.
“We are certainly moving in the right direction with our Economic and Community Development,” Wiles said. New industries have come to the Lewisburg Business Park, several industries are expanding in the Lewisburg Industrial Park and several new businesses have cropped up in just the past five years.
“The key, I believe, is the working together by the JECDB, the Chamber of Commerce and the Economic and Community Development departments of Lewisburg, Chapel Hill and Cornersville.”
The JECDB, the Chamber of Commerce and the City of Lewisburg have been meeting each Monday morning to discuss Economic and Community Development strategies for both industry and retail. Wiles began these meetings after being hired as JECDB Director to ensure that all the related entities in Marshall County remain on the same page when it comes to economic and community development.
“We are constantly learning from each other and learning from conferences like the ICSC coming up in Atlanta and the Governor’s Conference held last week in Nashville,” Wiles said. “We just received our Three-Star award at the Governor’s Conference but we also brought back some great ideas to take with us to Atlanta the first of October.”
The goal of the trip to Atlanta and the ICSC Southeast Conference will be to get Marshall County on the minds of developers and retailers from all facets of the retail industry. Wiles said that there are some specific retailers the team will meet face-to-face in Atlanta in the hopes of taking talks already underway to the next level. Though he would not say exactly who those retailers are, Wiles said they would make great fits to the retail plan for Marshall County, especially in Lewisburg and Chapel Hill.
“I’ve been hearing from people on what kinds of retailers they would like to see come to Marshall County,” Wiles said. “I will say that I am listening and we will be working on just such retailers, believe me.”

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