New proposal

Published 8:01 am Thursday, October 15, 2015

AHOSKIE – They’re back.

The Texas-based Buxton Group made a presentation before the Ahoskie Town Council at its regular monthly meeting here Wednesday and is ready to assist the town in marketing itself to new and old, large and small, retail businesses that want to locate in the town.

Originally hired by Ahoskie with assistance from the Hertford County Board of Commissioners, the Mideast Commission, and the Northeast Commission five years ago, and then re-upped in 2013, the retail site selection firm produced critical fact-based information used by Ahoskie to proceed with the attraction and expansion of the town’s retail sector.

The research paid off with the opening of the Wal-Mart Super Store on US-13 south of town, along with Tractor Supply in the old Wal-Mart retail space, and the recently-opened Hardee’s restaurant, located just across the highway from the same site.

Wednesday’s presentation by Robb Miller, sales director of Buxton’s public sector division, was called “Small City ID” and is still aimed at identifying retailers and restaurants that best fit the Ahoskie market.

“What we’re here to talk about today is helping Ahoskie be more competitive when it comes to retail recruitment and business retention,” Miller stated.

The purpose, Miller went on to add, is to improve the quality of life in the town, increase tax revenue, and retention of local business.

“The last time we partnered with you guys we were very successful,” Miller said. “We’re responsible for over $100,000 in tax revenue coming to Ahoskie every single year.”

Miller said the new focus was not just retail recruitment or economic development, but to assist the town with things like city services, parks and recreation, and health care.

“We want to help you understand what your new movers look like, and what is their impact here,” he acknowledged.

Miller said that the prior program used in marketing Ahoskie was designed to provide potential retailers with factual data on existing locations and critical market information that would create interest in Ahoskie as well as support the town’s needs to expand.

Miller said there’ve been some strategic changes since they last worked with the town.  Buxton’s web-based program, called SCOUT, now gives towns match lists and marketing packages they can access via the internet.

“Who are your new customers,” he implored. “Where are they, and how valuable are they?”

With the closing of two of Ahoskie’s internet cafes went fees the town received from privilege licenses. While sales tax off-sets some of that lost revenue, Miller thinks Buxton’s strategies will bring in even more.  He cited that in 700 communities the firm serves across the country they are able to generate $6 billion in sales tax revenue annually.  Buxton also assists communities in retaining current businesses operating in their areas by complementing them.

“We don’t want to cannibalize the businesses you already have in your area,” he noted. “We want to help you keep local dollars local.”

“Should we enter into a partnership I’m very confident we can be even more successful this time around,” he concluded. “We want to work as a true partner by understanding what do you want and what don’t you want.”

The cost to the town for Buxton services would be $50,000 a year for three years, but the town could cancel the service after the first year by giving written notice.

Town Manager Tony Hammond said one of the town’s primary concerns is focusing on Main Street,  and while Miller said that would not be an easy strategy based on preservation as well as bolstering business, he did see its possibilities.

Councilwoman Linda Blackburn, who was familiar with Buxton’s earlier strategies in marketing Ahoskie, wanted to know how much the firm would shepherd the town through the new process.

“Before, it was a little bit intimidating because we had data, but it was up to us to market ourselves, and we weren’t so good in doing that,” Blackburn explained.

Miller said account managers are part of the new strategy.

“In the past we may not have been there to provide guidance,” Miller stated. “Now at every step of the way there’s someone there to assist you; from formulating recruitment to status updates where we go through each retailer.  But you also can’t just hope you have to take a pro-active approach.”

Councilman Charles Freeman inquired about the cost breakdown from the prior agreement which Miller said was $65,000, which was paid in two installments.

Hammond said under the old agreement, the county paid one-third, the Mideast Commission and the Northeast Partnership paid a third, and Ahoskie paid the other one-third.  The new agreement would $50,000 annually over a multi-year period.

“Should the climate change you guys would be able to exit after the first year,” Miller said.

Miller said he understood the cost affect on a small community’s budget.

“Even from landing just one retailer, the partnership (with Buxton) more than pays for itself,” he noted. “But landing just one retailer is not success; it just depends on what’s going to work best for you. We do work with entrepreneurs in attaining loans; we do provide value outside of targeting retailers.”

Hammond said Buxton’s prior work with the town helped speed along the ground-breaking of the new Wal-Mart Superstore, which led to the arrival of Tractor Supply to the old location.

“We had two previous businesses with older stores (Dollar Tree and Family Dollar), and the data showed that a new store would support theirs, and both of those build brand new stores,” Hammond said.

Blackburn wanted to know where Hertford County stood as far as supporting a new Buxton agreement.

“What we do in Ahoskie helps support the county,” she said

Mayor Brien Lassiter asked for a motion either to set up a future workshop for the 2016 budget; to set up a discussion topic when the Council holds its retreat, to bring the topic back during the November Council meeting, or to discontinue discussion on Buxton’s new proposal altogether.

Councilman David Stackhouse made a motion to set up the Buxton proposal as a discussion topic during the retreat on the 2016 budget, seconded by Blackburn.

Prior to the vote, Councilmen Maurice Vann and Charles Freeman requested the Town Manager provide additional information at the November Council meeting on the town’s business growth.  The motion passed unanimously.