Updated: Nov 6, 2018
One of the advantages of bringing in an outside economic development consultant is objectivity. A level of objective detachment that is impossible for anyone too closely involved in the day to day activities of local government. The challenge for the consultant is how far do you zoom in with that objective microscope without becoming bogged down in information overload.
Viewing a community through its demographic and geographic profile is easy, cost-effective, and very tempting as a consultant. As a retail economic specialist, this is even more of a temptation because the national retail and restaurant tenants we are working to recruit only evaluate markets on demographic perimeters. The job of gathering, packaging, and marketing that data makes for a tempting demarcation for the limit of a consultants responsibilities and scope but I believe achieving a cities retail economic goals and potential requires more.
The reason most communities have been passed over by national retail and restaurant users is that their demographics do not meet the retailers minimum requirements. The level of analytics that these companies use for new market selection leaves very little to chance and very few markets unknown. The exception to this rule are markets where the right property has not been able to be developed for one reason or another and markets where local government has on purpose or inadvertently killed retail development.
Gathering and understanding relevant demographic and geographic data are important for a consultant but zooming into a more detailed level of understanding is vital in order to produce actionable solutions. Knowing the why behind the demographics opens up an array of long-term and short-term possibilities for positive change. Beneath the numbers are people, agendas, perceptions, politics and hard realities.
Understanding how all these factors have compiled over time to form a cities demographic profile takes time and expense. The only way to understand all these variables is to spend time getting to know the people and real underlying issues. Actual change happens with the ability to zoom back out above the fray of people, agendas, perceptions, and politics to form a plan of actionable step-by-step goals.
Effectively marketing a cities most viable retail sites to the most likely tenants will always be the cornerstone of retail economic development. However, in today's evolving retail reality the main benefit to hiring a retail economic specialist is the level of objective understanding they can bring to a community, the unique long-term plan they can put together and the ability to help the community put that plan into action.
That is why R.E.D City Planning is unique in its scope and mission. The goal is creating a better place to live through creating new national and local retail and reviving and improving the retail that is already there. The solution for doing that will be different for each city but it all starts with taking the time to fully understand a place and its people. To go below the numbers and stay above the fray.
by Adam Chandler