Pullman officials are hoping a new partnership with a consultant can bring much-needed retail dollars to the city.
The City Council on Tuesday approved a three-year, $135,000 contract with Retail Strategies, an Alabama-based company that promises to find retail and restaurant businesses appropriate for the city and recruit them to Pullman.
Mayor Glenn Johnson said attracting these businesses is important because residents have long expressed a desire for more shopping options in Pullman. Additionally, retail will provide the city government with important sales tax revenue. Right now, the city relies heavily on property taxes generated by construction projects. A little less than 30 percent of the city’s revenue currently comes from sales tax, he said.
Johnson said he and City Supervisor Adam Lincoln met with Retail Strategies representatives during a retail convention in Las Vegas and were impressed by its recruitment capabilities.
Joseph Fackel, executive vice president of Retail Strategies, said the company works with 140 cities around the country. Its role, he said, is to step in and help cities that don’t have the expertise or resources to aggressively recruit businesses.
He said Retail Strategies begins the process by gathering economic and lifestyle data on the city before deploying real estate experts to figure out what real estate is available and what businesses could be successful in those locations.
They will then recruit businesses, which could vary from national big box stores to more regional business ventures.
“We want to make sure we have an airtight case that we can, with confidence, tell these retail and restaurants that Pullman is a place they need to consider,” he said.
Traditionally, he said, college towns have a tough time attracting retail stores and restaurants because the college population often lowers the median household income – a big motivator for businesses when deciding where to locate. More and more are realizing that many college students have disposable income they’re willing to spend, Fackel said.
Fackel said he is looking forward to working with Johnson and the city, and he hopes the partnership can continue for as long as 15 years.
City Councilman Al Sorensen did not know about the city’s intentions with Retail Strategies until the weekend before Tuesday’s meeting. Sorensen said he is hopeful Retail Strategies can benefit Pullman’s business sector, but he would rather the city hire a full-time city employee tasked with business recruitment and economic development.
This issue was brought up during an Aug. 30 council meeting, when it was pointed out that Latah County uses paid positions in the Partnership for Economic Prosperity, which represents the economic interests of the county.
Pullman Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Marie Dymkoski, who was at the meeting, said she, too, would like the city to hire an economic development expert. Dymkoski chose not to comment on Retail Strategies to the Daily News earlier this week.
Johnson on Wednesday said given the city’s limited budget, it was more economically feasible to spend money on a consultant for three years than spending $130,000 in yearly salary and benefits on a full-time staffer.
Sorensen also said he hopes the city will attract restaurants – particularly to the downtown core area – and not just large retail chains.
“Let’s find another restaurateur who wants to open a downtown business like the Black Cypress,” he said.
Sorensen said he personally knows several restaurant owners who have told him they would be interested in opening up a location in downtown if a spot became available.
Sorensen believes this will help make downtown “more vibrant,” as many of the businesses located there – such as attorney’s offices and banks – aren’t destinations that attract tourists and locals to Main Street. In contrast, Moscow’s Main Street is home to numerous popular restaurants, cafes and pubs.
He said restaurants will not only help make downtown a destination for the public but will attract more retail businesses as well.
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