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EDC presents retail plan
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer
The Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. will work within its current budget to expand its role in recruiting retail businesses and help grow that sector of the economy.
“We do believe that we can do this and do it effectively,” Mark Heath, president and CEO of the EDC, told the Henry County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday when he outlined the agency’s new retail efforts.
The EDC “will immediately create a retail portal” at its online site, YesMartinsville.com, to point clients to local developers/brokers and to the EDC’s Small Business Division, Heath said.
It also will assign additional duties to existing staff “and do a better job branding and marketing our small business and tourism divisions,” Heath said.
The EDC’s tourism and small business staff will step up efforts on promotions and services to increase the number of visitors to Martinsville and Henry County, Heath said, noting that area was identified by local commercial developers as one needing attention.
The findings of a final report of the Shop Local Initiative — which is expected to pinpoint gaps in the retail sector — will be used by EDC staff to try and find retailers to fill the gaps, Heath said.
He added that the EDC also will work with Phoenix Community Development Corp. and the Harvest Foundation of the Piedmont to identify niche market opportunities, such as farm-to-market concepts, that are popular in other areas.
“One of the key things we are doing is” making Lisa Fultz, current director of the Small Business and Entrepreneurial Division, the point of contact for all retail initiatives, Heath said. Fultz will work with existing companies, local startups and out-of-town retailers, he said.
Responding to a question from Horsepasture District Supervisor Debra Buchanan about whether Fultz would only respond to incoming calls or also make calls and actively work to recruit retail businesses, Heath said Fultz will follow up on new contacts, actively pursue contacts and take calls from those interested in locating in Henry County and Martinsville.
Fultz also will attend monthly supervisors’ meetings — likely beginning in March — and report to the board on the retail sector, Heath said.
The EDC’s board approved the steps in response to a request from Buchanan, who formally proposed creating an office to work on retail and housing it with the EDC. The supervisors later incorporated that goal into their plans for the year.
The EDC does not have the budget to add staff, but Heath said that as the agency explored ways to become involved in the retail sector, “we realized we already are involved” in developing retail.
For instance, since 2006 the EDC’s Small Business division has helped create 308 jobs and a total capital investment of $13.8 million. Its clients included 78 companies that were retail or restaurants, Heath said.
The EDC also is/was involved in other retail efforts, including setting aside funds to help with a marina project at Philpott Lake that “is part and parcel to not only tourism” but also retail growth, he said.
Heath said he is confident the steps outlined in the expanded effort “will be an improvement.”