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EDC outlines retail efforts to council
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer
Stores cannot be recruited like industries, Martinsville City Council learned Tuesday.
Where retailers locate is “really driven by demographics,” said Mark Heath, president and CEO of the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. (EDC).
Basically, retailers open stores where they think they will have enough customers who can afford to buy their merchandise in the quantities necessary for the stores to be profitable, officials have indicated.
The EDC will work to try and attract more retailers to the area. However, it will limit those efforts due to its limited staff and because its officials realize that stores go where they think they will be profitable, according to Heath.
He outlined the EDC’s planned retail recruitment effort to the council, much like he did to the Henry County Board of Supervisors a few weeks ago.
Lisa Fultz, the EDC’s small business/entrepreneureal division director, will be its chief point of contact for retailer initiatives. Heath said Fultz will work with retailers interested in coming to Henry County-Martinsville, as well as retailers already here and entrepreneurs wanting to start stores locally.
Fultz will not travel out of town on “marketing missions” to meet with retail executives, but she and others on the EDC staff will take phone calls from them and help them in any way she can, Heath said.
He added that he is not aware of any economic development program that considers its main mission to be recruiting industries — like the EDC — also doing “in-depth” retail recruitment.
Organizations such as the Martinsville Uptown Revitalization Association might do that, he said.
The EDC will use a final report being prepared by the Shop Local Initiative, a project spearheaded by Martinsville Uptown, to learn where there are gaps in the local retail market and work to help fill those gaps, a report shows.
It also will work with the Phoenix Community Development Corp. and The Harvest Foundation to identify niche market opportunities that have been developed elsewhere, such as farm-to-market concepts, the report shows.
A retail portal now is on the EDC’s website, yesmartinsville.com, listing local real-estate brokers and developers with retail spaces available.
“It takes you to the Lesters and the Barnetts ... (and others) who are in this (real estate) business every day,” Heath said.
Mayor Kim Adkins said the portal is “a really good idea.”
The EDC should steer prospective retailers toward real estate brokers and developers because those people want to make sure “we (the EDC) don’t get in competition with them,” said Councilman Mark Stroud.
Heath noted that while the community has lost some retailers in recent years, other stores have located or expanded here. Among examples he mentioned were Northwest TrueValue Hardware, CVS, Walgreens, Dollar General Stores, Citi Trends and Chick-Fil-A.
The EDC is working on 11 industry recruitment projects, Heath said, including seven inquiry projects and four active projects.
Active projects are ones in which executives from a prospective company have visited the area. Inquiry projects are ones in which executives have sought information about the area but have not visited.
Also Tuesday, the council — seated as the city’s Redevelopment & Housing Authority — adopted on first reading an amended administrative plan for the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program.
The amended plan basically reflects the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) “enforcing all the regulations more vigorously,” said Wayne Knox, the city’s director of community development.
Nobody spoke during a public hearing on the plan. A 30-day period was set to accept public comments. Afterward, the council will consider the plan for final approval before forwarding it to HUD for federal approval.
HUD now wants Section 8 housing assistance providers to do federal as well as state and regional background checks on applicants and, if it is determined necessary, current participants, according to Knox.
A household will be ineligible for rental assistance if any of its members are convicted of a crime that is violent in nature or drug-related, and households will be kicked out of the program if an occupant is convicted of such crimes, Knox has said.
Along that line, “Are we going to put anybody out on the street?” asked Councilwoman Sharon Brooks Hodge.
“It’s not our intention,” although it may happen occasionally, Knox replied. He said that most of the time when people are kicked out of public housing, they can find other places to go.
The council also:
• Appropriated $66,965 into the current fiscal year’s budget.
Of that amount, $59,142 will go into the general fund, $7,185 will go into the capital reserve fund and $638 will go into the water fund.
The money comes from grants, donations and insurance reimbursements for the costs of cleaning up after a violent wind storm last June.
Funds will be used toward various expenses, from sheriff’s office operating costs to buying supplies for senior citizens programs, a document shows.
• Heard from area resident Chad Martin, who announced that a “Safe Schools” dialogue will be held from noon to 3 p.m. March 23 in Frith Hall at Patrick Henry Community College.
The public meeting will give area school officials a chance to discuss safety measures already in place, as well as give parents an opportunity to voice concerns and contribute ideas for improving safety, Martin said.
• Heard from Rick Ward, the new director of the Blue Ridge Regional Library system, who introduced himself.
• Met in closed session to discuss unannounced prospective businesses and industries, consider awarding a public contract in which bargaining is involved and discuss a personnel matter. No action was taken afterward.
More coverage of Tuesday’s council meeting will be reported in the Martinsville Bulletin on Thursday.