Our View: Columbus' focus on retail recruitment is a great start

August 10, 2018 10:19:37 AM



As Columbus city officials wrap up their work on the FY2019 budget, which will go into effect on Oct. 1, there will be a renewed emphasis on attracting more retail development. The preliminary budget appropriates $30,000 for recruiting new retail businesses. 


It's a logical move. 


For years now, the city has relied on the Golden Triangle Development LINK to lure retail businesses to the city. While it would be inaccurate to say the LINK has failed in that effort - it has provided data, resources and expertise in helping the city reach agreements with several retailers, including Michael's and Hobby Lobby - no one argues that the LINK focuses most of its time, energy and resources on recruiting industry. 


The time when industries located in city limits are pretty much over everywhere you look, though, and as a result the city does not benefit from these efforts as it might have 30 or 40 years ago.  


Recognizing this, the city is looking for a firm to take over retail recruitment. One such firm, Memphis-based NaviRetail, is expected to make a presentation to the city council at its next meeting. 


While we always advocate for shopping around to find the best service provider, we think hiring a retail recruitment consultant is a good move. 


Columbus has long been the dominant retail center in the greater Golden Triangle area. While Starkville has eclipsed Columbus slightly in population, Columbus' car dealerships, big box stores and mall have been the cash registers of the area. 


In making the case for hiring a retail recruitment firm, some city leaders have cited a study commissioned by the Columbus Lowndes Chamber of Commerce by the Tupelo-based market research firm Brick+Mortar. That information was presented to Chamber members at its annual luncheon last month. The presentation both showed the strength of Columbus retail and the opportunities to grow that sector. 


Brick+Mortar used cell phone data to create a map showing the areas from which Columbus retail draws its customers. That area is referred to as our Retail Trade Area. Our RTA draws far beyond the city limits of Columbus, stretching primarily from Amory to the North to Macon in the South and from Starkville to the west and the Vernon and Gordo to the east.  


The LINK has long maintained that retail firms' decisions to locate in a place is largely data- and demographics-driven. NaviRetail acknowledges that but says that's just part of the story. Their strategy includes identifying retail and restaurant categories that are absent from our market and then targeting those types of businesses for recruitment. (We're guessing they're not going to find a lack of chicken and burger restaurants.) 


The Brick+Mortar study already done by the Chamber seems to support that claim in a way. It identified a wide range of retail opportunities that could and should be pursued for the area. 


That the city would set aside funds for that is entirely appropriate. 


We like the direction retail recruitment is going. We also think it's going to be most effective with multiple entities engaged in the conversation. The Chamber and the city have shown an interest in identifying retail opportunities. Realtors, commercial property owners, Main Street Columbus and Leigh Mall are other potential major players in this. 


We urge the cooperation of those entities as we all try to grow Columbus.