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Some say government has no role in retail
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Jim Farrell, director of real estate for The Lester Group, is shown in a renovated office at the Commonwealth Centre. He says there is no silver bullet to retail/commercial development. (File photo)

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Some local developers oppose the idea of starting a new office to focus on expanding the retail base in the Henry County-Martinsville area or offer incentives to retailers moving here.

Jim Farrell, director of real estate for The Lester Group, is among those who oppose the idea of Martinsville, Henry County and economic development officials creating an office to lure retail businesses as proposed recently by Henry County Supervisor Debra Buchanan.

For one thing, if local governments and agencies get involved, “I feel they would end up being a competitor to” the private sector and companies that already are working to attract retail, Farrell said.

The Lester Group also has renovated the Clocktower at Commonwealth Centre (formerly Tultex), and attracted businesses such as the Faneuil call center, which recently announced it will expand there. The Lester Group also manages the former Thomas Systems building, portions of the Leatherwood Shopping Center, and many other locations, according to its website.

That work to attract retailers “absolutely positively is something that we are doing, and I would think” other commercial developers are doing the same thing, Farrell said.

Jim Barnett, of Barnett Commercial Real Estate Inc. in Martinsville, said he also does not think a new office is needed to recruit retail.

“A lot of the potential retail development land is owned privately, and there are several people who do a good job marketing their properties,” Barnett said. “I just don’t think it’s the function of government to set up retail.”

Barnett also questions the practicality of offering incentives to retailers for locating here.

“What happens to the existing retailers, who have been paying taxes and been here all these years?” he asked, adding that a new business that receives incentives may compete with an existing business that does not.

Even when a deal is made, the process of locating or relocating can be lengthy, according to Farrell, who said he began working on the Chick-fil-A project in 2010. The new restaurant opened in January.

“I’ve been in real estate for 30-some years, and I learned from the very beginning that this is a marathon. It is not a sprint,” Farrell said. “There is no silver bullet” to retail/commercial development. It’s a lot of hard work ... a lot of rolling up your sleeves. It’s like farming.”

Both Farrell and Barnett said the area’s high unemployment, declining population and other factors also work against efforts to attract retailers.

But they agree that there is a key to success.

“The key is people with money, people with jobs ... good-paying jobs and disposable incomes,” Farrell said.

The last census showed that population had declined, and a number of jobs also have been lost, he said.

“There are not a lot of jobs. There is not a lot of industry. What we need to do first is to figure out a way to get jobs in here,” Farrell said.

The jobs will attract people, “and then we’ll get you a doggoned Target,” and any number of other big box retailers, he said

Even then, “you’re not going to see a Nordstrom locating in Martinsville and Henry County. There’s not enough income to justify that,” Farrell said. The age-old rule to attracting retailers “really is exposure to people with money.”


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