Martinsville Bulletin, Inc.
P. O. Box 3711
204 Broad Street
Martinsville, Virginia 24115
Toll Free: 800-234-6575
Editorial: Let the marketplace take care of retail
Sunday, February 10, 2013
Target. Marshall’s. Red Lobster. Home Depot. Those businesses have been on the wish lists of local residents for years. And with storefronts and buildings sitting empty in the area, it is easy to jump on board with the proposal to boost retail recruitment efforts.
But hold on. Let’s think this through.
First, many of those buildings and storefronts that are vacant housed businesses — often retail ones — that could not survive there. There likely are many reasons for that, but we suspect in most cases it was a byproduct of the area’s chronic high unemployment. When people are out of work and have no income other than perhaps public assistance, or they are working at low-paying jobs to get by, they spend their money on essentials — food, medicine and so on. Operating a retail business here that does not provide those essential goods and services has to be a challenge.
Second, most of those buildings and storefronts are private property being marketed by their owners or their representatives. In interviews with the Martinsville Bulletin last week, several people who do just that made the point that the private sector works constantly on recruitment, that it is a complicated process often hampered by factors outside their control, and that government should not have a role in it. Some of those sentiments likely reflect their self-interest, but we strongly agree that whenever possible, government should not compete with or do the jobs of private businesses.
Third, retail and commercial businesses know what they want. They have detailed requirements for things such as population density, household income, traffic flow and more. Many work from reports that get as specific as whether homes in an area are owned or rented, the type of heat they have and whether they have home equity loans. If the area does not meet the criteria, the business will not come, regardless of who is asking.
And fourth, when the proposal for the retail effort was made by Henry County Supervisor Debra Buchanan, she suggested approaching The Harvest Foundation for funding. Yet the foundation already funds the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp., which does help recruit retail when asked. There is no retail office within the EDC, but it will not turn down a business that asks for help, as evidenced by its work for the new Northwest True Value store in Ridgeway. And just like a government, we believe Harvest should not compete with the private sector.
If Buchanan and others want to encourage retail development here, we suggest they continue to stay focused on attracting industries and businesses that will create good-paying jobs so retailers will have paying customers with disposable incomes.
In other words, retail development will result from changes in the marketplace. That, we believe, is how growth will occur.