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Successful Economic Development

The large crowd participating in a recent ICMA web conference, Economic Developent: Attracting Retailers and Keeping Them, underscored the need for economic development in small communities. On November 8, Lisa Hill, vice president of the public sector division at Buxton (an ICMA Strategic Partner) welcomed Jeff Fleming, assistant city manager of Kingsport, Tennessee, and Steven Lantsberger, economic development director for Hesperia, California, for a practical look at understanding your market to attract and retain retailers.

Hill opened the presentation by touching on six key factors for successful economic development:

  • Knowing your customers
  • Understanding your community’s economic profile
  • Having data to quantify retail demand and market potential
  • Attracting retailers that “fit” with your community
  • Being strategic and informed in site selection
  • Assisting existing local businesses.

Jeff Fleming presented Kingsport, Tennessee, as a case study in economic development success. Located in the eastern part of the state, Kingsport is midway between New York and New Orleans, and also midway between Chicago and Orlando. As Fleming described it, Kingsport is large enough to have amenities and small enough to avoid problems, such as traffic and crime.

Fleming shared how his city overcame its small-town stigma by using sophisticated market analysis to develop a strategy to attract businesses. By learning the habits Kingsport residents and members of surrounding areas, the city was able to attract retailers, such as Dick’s Sporting Goods, Lowe’s, Old Navy, Starbucks, Panera Bread, and Target, to name a few. Since 2005, Kingsport has filled 1.1 million square feet of retail space on a redeveloped site. Retail sales tax collections have increased by 18 percent in the last 10 years.

Hesperia, California, is a success story on the other side of the country. Incorporated in 1988, this relatively young city is 90 miles outside of Los Angeles. Prior to its recent economic development efforts, the city’s largest retailer was a Big K, and it was experiencing substantial retail leakage. Hesperia developed a strategy based in research, with clear goals and objectives, a dedicated staff and resources, and the discipline to be open for business no matter how the economy was performing.

The efforts paid off, with retailers like Walmart, Target, Pier 1, Jo-Ann’s, Marshalls, and Ross, Hesperia boasts more than 1 million square feet of new retail space and more than 1,000 direct permanent jobs since 2007.

If you missed this web conference, you can order an On Demand copy.

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