Well, I’m back from Las Vegas and the ICSC RECON national retail convention. It was a productive trip and we have a lot of leads to work to bring new retail business to Middletown. It’s a process, and I thought you might like to know how we are approaching that segment of Economic Development.
As you are probably aware, we contracted with Buxton to help us identify and recruit retailers that are looking for locations similar to our demographics. We have a three year contract with Buxton, and each year we will be updating the list of new potential retail stores to remove companies that have been recruited and are now coming to Middletown and also companies that are not interested in opening new locations here in the near future.
Buxton has completed their preliminary research and have identified retailers that have interest in opening new locations in this area. The larger list was refined to 20 retailers where our demographics most closely match their preferred new location requirements. Below is the list of retailers where we will begin our efforts to bring new shopping and eating locations to Middletown. Yes… Chick-fil-A is on the list….
So armed with this list, the Economic Development Director and I flew to Las Vegas to start the introduction process. Picture one million square feet of booth space, 36,000 people in that space, then add a hotel/conference center next door and you’ll have the scope of ICSC RECON. The convention hosted retailers, brokers, developers, cities promoting themselves as ideal new retail locations, vendors who support retailers, and vendors who support cities in paving, energy, lighting, etc. Three large convention halls of exhibits with informational sessions at the hotel conference center throughout the convention.
Not all of our Buxton retailer list was present at the convention, but we met with many of them and then had several meetings with additional retailers not on the Buxton list that indicated they were expanding in Ohio. The owners of Towne Mall were there and we tag-teamed several meetings with retailers that might have interest in adding new locations at the Mall.
The only similarity to the process we went through is what I imagine speed dating to be like. You walk up to a retailer’s booth, and sitting there are development guidelines that list how many square feet they need for a new store, whether they want to be stand alone or in a mall/strip center, what they are willing to pay per square foot for lease space, what parking or traffic requirements they have, etc.
Next to that is a national map showing who is responsible for that retailer in each state. You walk over and pick up the Ohio person’s business card and ask if that person is available. The greeter at the booth calls that person over and you walk over to a tiny table where the 3 minute conversation goes something like this:
“Hey we’re from Middletown and we’d love to have a [retailer name] location in our city!” The retailer responds, “Great, we’re expanding and Middletown looks like a great place to locate a new store.” We respond, “Great, we’ll send you our available locations and a package listing our demographics to start putting a deal together.” And the retailer responds, “I look forward to getting it and discussing it later. Now I have to go meet the next person, bye.”
And you’re done with that retailer… and you move on to the next one. The benefit of the three minute conversations are that we now have the name of the decision maker for Ohio for that retailer and we have all of the retailer’s requirements to open a new location. Now that we are back, we can work with Buxton and develop a package that addresses all of that retailer’s needs and then send it to the right person for consideration.
If this is a 10 step process, we just completed step one… introductions. If this is a 2-5 year process, we are in the first 90 days of the 2-5 years. We laid groundwork this week that hopefully will bring new desired retail locations to Middletown over the next few years. We will be successful with some retailers on the list. Not everyone on the list will want to locate in Middletown. We will update the process with Buxton as we work the list and repeat the process next year, hopefully closing deals from this year and making introductions on a new list for 2017.
There are two reasons why we as a city care about retail businesses. First, you and I live here and we want local places to get the “stuff” we want to buy. Too often now we have to drive north or south on I-75 to shop. Having retail close makes Middletown a more attractive place to live and work. Second, in the big 2020 plan to improve revenues to pave roads and provide better city services, more retail locations help recruit those 1,400 retail and service jobs we hope to create by 2020, which in turn improves our tax base and provides jobs for our residents.
Have a great Memorial Day weekend! Be safe!