New retail: What can Pike County support?

Published 10:25 pm Friday, July 18, 2014

If Michael Brinson could see any new business open in Troy, he would want it to be an FYE. “We don’t really have any tech stores, outside of Radio Shack,” he said.

High on Troy resident Demarco Berry’s wish list is a Golden Corral. “There’s only a few buffets in town,” he said.

Marsha Gaylard, president of the Pike County Economic Development Corporation, says people ask her when Pike County is going to get their favorite stores and restaurants all the time. “My standard answer is ‘We’re going to get this type of retail when our demographics match their criteria,’” she said.

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The job of the EDC is to sell Pike County’s attributes and bring retailers to the area. Gaylard then matches the retailers with local developers.

“It’s a very tough job because we all want things that retailers say we can’t support,” she said.

Gaylard has to convince retail prospects the local population is not the only consumer. Pike County has a radius of about 25 miles outside county lines, residents of places like Luverne and Union Springs, who travel here on a regular basis to shop.

Space and population size are major hurdles when recruiting national chains. Retailers also look at the income level of an area.

The area’s income level has improved as larger industries like Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin have come to Pike. The recent addition of CGI has also helped.

Gaylard has found the county in a catch-22. Developers do not want to invest millions in a new development without securing at least one big retailer. And the large retailers want to rent space that is already developed. They generally do not sign agreements before that point.

Most national retail chains do not go downtown, according to Gaylard. They want something on a major thoroughfare. In Pike County’s case, that would be U.S. Highway 231.

“Retailers have very strict criteria about where they will locate and we really haven’t had any available space on 231,” said Gaylard.

New retail developments have also been few and far between. Gaylard said she only knew of one new shopping center in the works. Local developer Sherrill Crowe is building the center at 1113 U.S. 231, the former location of a Chevron gas station, and is willing to build to suit retailers.

Former mayor Jimmy Lunsford, who now works with the Pike County Economic Development Corporation played a hand in growing the city of Troy. He inherited a $10 million budget when he took office. That budget grew to more than $55 million by the time he left.

He said the city started diversifying its economic base by going after companies like Lockheed Martin and Sikorsky so that the city would not be dependent on any single source of income, namely the university.

Lunsford agreed that population had a lot to do with the retail stores the EDC could lure to the area.

“You have to have housetops and you have to realize what you are eligible for,” he said. “You’re not going to get a Dillards with our population.”

Lunsford focuses on growth patterns when he is wooing new businesses. “We have a 29 percent increase in the population from 2000 to 2010,” he said.

Lunsford’s catch-22 is the city’s growth versus its charm.

“I’d like to see Troy grow but want to keep that small town atmosphere,” he said.

The ideal population size for him would be about 25,000. It would attract a whole new tier of retailers.

Lunsford said Troy University has been extremely important to retail recruitment efforts. “I think that we’ve gotten some stores that we wouldn’t have gotten without the university,” he said. “We’ve grown dramatically. One-penny sales tax generates well over $2 million. It didn’t see a half million before.

Lunsford predicted Troy would see plenty more growth in the coming years. “When you look at some of the good things our council is doing, they are very aggressive when recruiting new business,” he said. “I’m very excited.”

The city has competitive tax rates, incentives and utility costs that make it very attractive to retailers. “Out of 400 cities, we ranked seventh as the friendliest city for business,” he said. “License fees, taxes, manual labor … we’re just a business-friendly community.”