Newton County has big re­tail plans

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - GABRIEL KHOULI gkhouli@cov­

Newton County needs more shop­ping op­tions. For lo­cal res­i­dents, that’s an ob­vi­ous state­ment, one they’ve been harp­ing on for decades as Cov­ing­ton lost cloth­ing stores and its lone movie the­ater and bowl­ing al­ley.

Re­tail re­cruiter Dave Bernd is work­ing on find­ing an­swers to the less-ob­vi­ous ques­tions of ex­actly which busi­nesses are likely to suc­ceed in Newton County and how to get them here. He’s find­ing that be­ing armed with facts and fig­ures helps.

While en­ter­tain­ment is high on res­i­dents’ wish lists, auto deal­ers, depart­ment stores and cloth­ing stores are three of ar­eas where res­i­dents most fre­quently buy out­side of Newton County, ac­cord­ing to the county’s lat­est re­tail study.

The county loses a po­ten­tial $494.1 mil­lion in re­tail sales ev­ery year to busi­nesses be­yond its bor­ders. That num­ber has ac­tu­ally de­clined from stud­ies in re­cent years, which es­ti­mated the county lost $750 mil­lion re­cently.

The num­ber is still higher than Bernd and oth­ers had hoped, since Home Depot and the Wal­mart at Brown Bridge and Salem roads have opened in the mean­time.

The “auto parts and deal­ers” cat­e­gory ac­counted for nearly a fourth of the gap at $120.3 mil­lion. Gen­eral mer­chan­dise, which in­cludes big-box depart­ment stores such as Wal­mart and Tar­get, came in sec­ond at $56.2 mil­lion, while ap­parel and ac­ces­sories was third at $48.2 mil­lion.

Restau­rants came in fourth at $31.4 mil­lion.

Bernd, whose of­fi­cial ti­tle is di­rec­tor of com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ment for the Cov­ing­ton-Newton County Cham­ber of Com­merce, said ini­tial num­bers are the first step, but the num­bers need to be re­fined fur­ther.

For ex­am­ple, Newton County has Ford, Gen­eral Mo­tors, and Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge deal­er­ships. The ques­tion is whether the un­met de­mand is mainly for for­eign car deal­er­ships, if cus­tomers in western Newton County are sim­ply go­ing to Rock­dale County to buy their do­mes­tic cars, or both. The specifics will de­ter­mine the strat­egy.

Mar­ketek, the third-party con­trac­tor han­dling the re­tail study, will con­tinue to drill down into the data and break it out by lo­ca­tion, in­clud­ing ar­eas such as U.S. 278, the square, Al­mon and Salem roads, and the area around Bax­ter In­ter­na­tional, which Bernd says is a hot spot of in­ter­est.

Nev­er­the­less, Bernd is al­ready us­ing the data he has to ag­gres­sively tar­get re­tail­ers.

He’s al­ready made 120 con­tacts, most of them from a re­tail con­fer­ence in At­lanta ear­lier this month, and has seven meet­ings set up be­tween now and May with bro­kers who rep­re­sent re­tail com­pa­nies.

“The bro­kers are re­ally the re­cruiters,” Bernd said. “If I go to Belk (for ex­am­ple), Belk only works with one bro­ker, so you have to work through that bro­ker. (Belk) doesn’t work di­rectly with me.

“I’m the go-fer for the bro­ker,” Bernd said. His job is to do as much dig­ging and gather as much in­for­ma­tion as pos­si­ble to make the bro­ker’s job, and a po­ten­tial deal, eas­ier.

Part of the pitch is the ex­ist­ing re­tail sales leak­age of $494.1 mil­lion, which trans­lates to a po­ten­tial of 1.1 mil­lion square feet of store space. For per­spec­tive, the new Wal­mart at Salem and Brown Bridge roads is 151,955 square feet.

In ad­di­tion, while Newton of­fi­cials of­ten think of Rock­dale County as pil­fer­ing re­tail dol­lars from Newton busi­nesses, Newton County has the po­ten­tial to steal dol­lars from the small, bor­der­ing ar­eas of Wal­ton, Mor­gan, Jasper, Butts and even Henry coun­ties.

The mar­ket area Bernd is sell­ing has 152,805 peo­ple and 52,800 house­holds, with a me­dian age of 36 and a me­dian house­hold in­come of $52,365.

The last num­ber will be sur­pris­ing to some, as in­come has fre­quently been men­tioned as the rea­son Newton County has strug­gled to at­tract high- qual­ity es­tab­lish­ments.

“Peo­ple of­ten think we’re in hor­ri­ble shape ( in me­dian in­come), like $ 30,000, but if you look at the data, we’re OK,” Bernd said. “The data tells me we’re over $ 50,000. Rock­dale County is at $ 60,000, but in the grand scheme, most of the other coun­ties around us are in the $ 40,000s. We’re in OK shape, and with where we’re go­ing with in­dus­try ( re­cruit­ment and ex­pan­sions), that’s only go­ing to get bet­ter.”

Bernd said Newton County’s me­dian in­come is high enough to fit in the range of 70 per­cent of the com­pa­nies he’s con­tacted.

While bro­kers are very eas­ily able to get in­come, pop­u­la­tion den­sity and car count num­bers, it’s the in­tan­gi­ble parts of the story that Bernd will try to sell, along with the su­per- spe­cific data he’s gath­er­ing,

The county’s 2050 Plan is a com­pre­hen­sive land use and fu­ture de­vel­op­ment plan that seeks to di­rect growth to re­duce sprawl, and in turn save money by hav­ing more ef­fi­cient trans­porta­tion and in­fra­struc­ture net­works.

Ac­cord­ing to Bernd, “10 to 20 per­cent of bro­kers had heard of and un­der­stood the 2050 Plan, which is re­ally in­ter­est­ing. They’re ask­ing how we’re able to pull off the Bax­ters,” Bernd said, even ac­knowl­edg­ing the ef­fect that Cater­pil­lar’s ar­rival near Athens has on the re­gion. “( Bro­kers are ask­ing), ‘ What is hap­pen­ing out east of At­lanta?’… all of a sud­den they’re pay­ing at­ten­tion to us.”

Another part of the story is sell­ing the home­town feel­ing of Cov­ing­ton and Newton County, as well as the lo­cal farm­ers mar­kets and even the schools.

Bernd said he’s fo­cused on fill­ing up the county’s ex­ist­ing re­tail in­ven­tory, with the big­gest lo­ca­tions be­ing the Cov­ing­ton Cor­ners shop­ping center at the cor­ner of Elm Street and U. S. 278 and the Martin’s Cross­ing shop­ping center, in­clud­ing va­cant space next to In­gles.

Over the next six to 12 months, Bernd will con­tinue to de­velop and craft the story to en­tice bro­kers and in­vestors to the county, in­clud­ing U. S. 278, Ga. High­way 142, Ga. High­way 11 and the square.

“We have to make sure we don’t lose down­town. The square has to be a part of the process. We have to make sure we have full oc­cu­pancy,” Bernd said, not­ing the 16,000 square feet of cur­rent va­cancy, led by the for­mer May­field Hard­ware lo­ca­tion.

Dar­rell Everidge/The Cov­ing­ton News

Newton County re­tail re­cruiter Dave Bernd is look­ing to bring re­tail out­lets to the county, in­clud­ing auto deal­ers, depart­ment stores and cloth­ing stores, to shop­ping ar­eas such as the Cov­ing­ton square down­town.

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