Lots of potential

Published 9:29 am Monday, May 16, 2016

AHOSKIE – If Hertford County in general, and the Town of Ahoskie in particular, hope to expand its retail footprint then retail recruitment for the area is vital.

That’s what county Economic Development Commission Director Bill Early said as he addressed the Ahoskie Town Council at their May meeting here on Tuesday night.

“A couple of the things we’re trying to focus on is assisting our towns with recruitment in retail development,” Early said. “It’s something that’s been a challenge for all of our towns and the county.”

Hertford County has previously partnered with the town in the participation with The Buxton Group on a study aimed at strengthening economic development in the region. Last fall the Texas-based analytics firm made a presentation before Council stating they were ready to assist the town in marketing itself to new and old, large and small, retail businesses that want to locate in Ahoskie.

“The information they provided is very helpful; and in my networking I’ve found there are many companies who basically do the same thing that Buxton does,” Early stated.

The director went on to say that some of the retail assistance a group like Buxton provides can be costly both with the studies they conduct and the assistance they provide. He further said a new competitor has entered the market called Retail Strategies.

“They have developed what they refer to as a ‘retail academy’,” Early explained. “They actually come in and provide you locally with all the information that’s needed for retail recruitment, and train the locals on how to go out and do that.”

While no decision has been made, Early said Hertford County was looking into hosting a retail academy and would include the towns of Murfreesboro and Ahoskie should they choose to participate. The academy would consist of a half-day workshop focused on building and executing a retail recruitment strategy to include current industry trends, site selection, customized data, marketing materials specifically targeted for the area, networking tools, and the best practices for retail recruitment.

“We would certainly like the town to endorse this and support our endeavors in moving forward with this,” Early stated. “We would want to include a couple of people from town government to participate as well as the Chamber of Commerce.”

Councilman Charles Freeman asked about the cost, which Early stated would be $6,900 for a single municipality, but the cost would be $12,500 for all of Hertford County.

Under a prior service arrangement, Buxton’s cost to the Town of Ahoskie alone was $65,000 per year, which was paid in two installments. Hertford County then paid one-third, the Mideast Commission and the Northeast Partnership paid a third, and Ahoskie paid the other one-third. The new Buxton agreement proposed last fall would cost $50,000 annually over a multi-year period, but the town could cancel the service after the first year by giving written notice.

Councilman Justin Freeman inquired on demographic data supplied in the research, as Buxton had done. The latter had provided a binder that could be submitted to potential clients.

“It would be similar, and it would be a lot more data,” Early replied.

The director cited meetings attended at the International Council of Shopping Centers, and said it seems fast-food restaurants – something Ahoskie is very interested in – provided data on their minimum requirements for consideration of entering into a retail agreement.

“The thing we have to do is convince these retailers that we are not typical of the urban areas that they serve,” Early explained. “Our people will drive more than five minutes to go to dinner, and there’s nowhere else (chain restaurants) within a 45 minute radius. We have to get to those (retailers) and let them know that we are not typical.”

Early said Retail Strategies will show how despite showing retailers a traffic count estimate of 17,500 – where the retailers’ minimum for consideration is 22,000 – Ahoskie can market itself more favorably.

On the question of the time town administrators would need to be part of the marketing strategy, Early suggested participation from the Chamber of Commerce, and that one of the spokespeople could be the Office of Economic Development.

“I serve the entire county, so I’m trying to represent the towns as well,” he replied. “Quality of life plays a huge impact on my ability to bring in industrial-type companies, that’s why we’re moving in the direction of enhancing some of the things that affect our quality of life.”

Early said that part of appealing to a company to bring manufacturing jobs into the county is having places for them to eat and shop.

“It’s part of the total package we can present as Hertford County,” Early said. “We’re not asking for the towns to pay anything, but we do not want to come in and do something that targets the town without the town’s consent. We just want your endorsement and support.”

Early said if endorsed, he would try to schedule the first academy for post-July 1, as he would submit it as part of his budget request to the county for 2016-17.

“Sometime this fall we would actually do it,” he noted. “We would try to identify the people that would participate with this and then set some dates.”

Early said he would supply the Ahoskie Town Council with a copy of his proposal for review prior to the next scheduled meeting.

“It’s hard to endorse a game if you don’t know all the rules,” mused Councilman Charles Freeman.