Cham­ber ramps up re­tail re­cruit­ment

The Covington News - - Front page - By Gabriel Khouli apittman@cov­

Amidst all the Christ­mas caroling, there’s a gen­eral re­frain that Newton County res­i­dents can be heard re­peat­ing dur­ing the hol­i­days: “There’s nowhere to shop.”

The Cov­ing­ton/Newton County Cham­ber of Com­merce is try­ing to change that. They want to get more re­tail­ers here, and they’re try­ing to re­cruit them in batches.

“Peo­ple want us to re­cruit Belk, but they’re not in­ter­ested in a stand­alone site,” said Cham­ber Pres­i­dent Hunter Hall. “We need other stores, en­tire shop­ping cen­ters. We need to be able to re­cruit six to 10 stores (at a time).”

Hall, who at­tended a re­cent meet­ing of the In­ter­na­tional Con­fer­ence of Shop­ping Cen­ters, said the in­dus­try trend is de­scribed as co-ten­ancy. Co-ten­ancy pro­vides ob­vi­ous chal­lenges, be­cause more stores must be re­cruited and sig­nif­i­cant chunks of land are needed. That’s chal­leng­ing at any time, but in the cur­rent econ­omy, re­tail­ers are pulling back into only the high­est-den­sity mar­kets, Hall said.

Un­like man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­tries, for which com­mu­ni­ties ac­tively com­pete by of­fer­ing in­cen­tive pack­ages, re­tail busi­nesses have not his­tor­i­cally been re­cruited. Ma­jor re­tail­ers are typ­i­cally at­tracted to com­mu­ni­ties by four fac­tors: Pop­u­la­tion, per capita in­come, me­dian house­hold in­come and traf­fic counts. Newton County scores well in pop­u­la­tion, but not so well in in­come lev­els. And aside from In­ter­state 20 Exit 93, most ar­eas in the county sim­ply don’t of­fer enough vis­i­bil­ity nor high enough daily car counts.

“Peo­ple like Cov­ing­ton. They’re in­ter­ested in us, be­cause we’re not metro, but we’re not ru­ral ei­ther,” Hall said. “Peo­ple like Exit 93 in par­tic­u­lar.”

When a re­tailer lo­cates in a com­mu­nity, it seeks to draw shop­pers from the sur­round­ing com­mu­ni­ties as well. That means Newton County is not go­ing to be able to at­tract busi­ness that have al­ready lo­cated in neigh­bor­ing cities such as Cony­ers and Madi­son, be­cause those stores would be com­pet­ing with each other.

In­stead, Newton County will have to fo­cus on land­ing sim­i­lar re­tail­ers that would be able to draw res­i­dents from sur­round­ing com­mu­ni­ties. For ex­am­ple, in­stead of go­ing af­ter a Dick’s Sport­ing Goods, which has lo­ca­tions in McDonough and Lo­ganville, Newton County would try to ap­peal to a com­pany like East­ern Moun­tain Sports.

Hall and Eco­nomic Devel­op­ment Di­rec­tor Shan­non Davis have formed a com­mer­cial bro­ker­age roundtable to con­nect with these com­pa­nies. The roundtable in­cludes com­mer­cial leas­ing agents like Mor­ris Ewing Jr., who re­cently signed a deal to bring Cracker Bar­rel to Cov­ing­ton, and groups like Halpern En­ter­prises, which rents out Newton Plaza. The cham­ber is also seek­ing agen­cies that rep­re­sent groups of busi­nesses, which fits with the co-ten­ancy trend.

But the best way to pro­mote re­tail growth, ac­cord­ing to the cham­ber, is for it to con­cen­trate on its main charges, re­cruit­ing in­dus­try and pro­mot­ing small busi­ness.

“Our fo­cus, first and fore­most is job growth and in­come. Once we have those, then we’ll see more re­tail,” Hall said. “Un­til the econ­omy sees dis­cre­tionary spend­ing in­creases, re­tail will con­tinue to re­tract, but we’re try­ing to po­si­tion our­selves for fu­ture growth.”

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