Retail Important to the Economic Development Mix

The main focus of most economic development efforts is to attract “primary jobs.” These are jobs that result from new industry, manufacturing plants, transportation hubs, warehousing and distribution operations, call centers, and large office complexes, just to name a few examples.

Economic development doesn’t end there, however. Not by a long shot. Good economic development is well-rounded economic development, which the Lake Wales Economic Development Council is striving for locally. An important component of fuller economic development is retail — steady and consistent growth in the number of close-by retail establishments and breadth of retail services.

Technically, a retail business is one that sells finished goods to people in exchange for money. It’s where consumers go to spend a significant portion of their paychecks or retirement checks. Retail is a broad business sector. Outlets include grocery stores, general merchandise (department) stores, specialty stores (including mall-type kiosks), non-store retailers (mail-order or Internet-based companies), and restaurants (fast food, fast casual, casual sit-down dining, and fine dining). Retail also can include service-related businesses, such as beauty salons and barber shops, and rental and storage centers.

Retail recruitment for economic development purposes is important for a number of reasons, including these top five:

1. New retail centers create construction jobs.
2. New retail centers boost construction-related spending.
3. Additional retail establishments create additional seasonal and year-round jobs for a community.
4. New retail businesses can help to reduce the inventory of existing commercial property, such a vacant storefronts in shopping centers and plazas.
5. Folks want choices — and lots of them.

Expanding on No. 5 in the list, people are attracted to communities that offer many retail options. Also, more retail choices in greater Lake Wales provide additional reasons for existing residents to stay close to home for shopping and dining and, importantly, to make this community their lifelong home. People tend to want to live and work where retail centers are plentiful in number, scope, and variety.

The team at the Lake Wales EDC team is always working to build on the area’s already good retail foundation. That work will include a trip by a three-member EDC team to the 2016 RECon Global Retail Real Estate Convention, set for May 22-25 in Las Vegas. This huge convention, mentioned briefly in last month’s column, is held annually by the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC). This year’s event is expected to host more than 36,000 attendees and approximately 1,000 exhibitors.

The Lake Wales EDC was represented with a team, booth, and display at last year’s ICSC RECon. We will be returning to RECon this year and we have a full schedule planned that include meetings with new contacts that could represent some exciting opportunities for Lake Wales residents as well as reconnecting with some contacts that we met at last year’s event.

This year’s ICSC RECon will give us another opportunity to tell the Lake Wales story — in a large and lively setting — to representatives of many national retail brands and perhaps to some reps for growing but not-so-well-known brands. First, we want to tell people where we are — starting with the U.S. Southeast and narrowing down to Florida, Central Florida, and Polk County. Next, we want to share that there’s a very large retail consumer component — a large population — within just an hour’s drive of Lake Wales. And then we want to continue building the Lake Wales “brand” as one that includes a friendly economic development environment and great business development opportunities for companies of all kinds and sizes.

We’re expecting a lot of return on the EDC’s investment in ICSC RECon, and we’re looking forward to the next big chance to shine the spotlight on our great community in a prime national — and even international — setting.