Recruiting businesses to locate in cities large and small is a complicated feat that can take years of negotiations to become a reality, and the process is no different for the City of …
Recruiting businesses to locate in cities large and small is a complicated feat that can take years of negotiations to become a reality, and the process is no different for the City of Jasper.
Jasper Mayor David O'Mary and Chamber of Commerce of Walker County President Linda Lewis joined Retail Strategies team members and Project Developer Carter Cooper of Richmond Properties for a conversation with the Daily Mountain Eagle about how businesses are recruited locally.
The first thing Jeff Sommer, portfolio director for Retail Strategies, emphasized was, "It takes years to get people to finish a deal."
Retail Strategies has been working with the City of Jasper and the Chamber of Commerce of Walker County for the past six years to serve as a bridge between locals and national companies, and Retail Strategies has secured a number of businesses in Jasper.
By working with Cooper, they secured the majority of retailers in the Jasper Square Shopping Center and other businesses along Highway 78, including the recently announced Applebee's restaurant.
Sommer said many factors come into play when approaching businesses to consider opening a location anywhere in the country.
"They have a criterion of a dozen variables or so that they have to hit to make sure they make their profit. Sometimes it's population, sometimes it's income ... it's high visibility. It's being with other good co-tenants. It's everything," Sommer said. "Our role at Retail Strategies is trying to get these national guys to look at this market."
Cooper added, "Each tenant can only do so many locations, and they've got the whole country to select from. You have to do a pretty big sales job to convince them to come to your market."
"You have to realize, you're competing not only against other communities in your county, other communities in your state, but communities regionally and nationally," Retail Development Coordinator Elliott Cook of Retail Strategies said.
Thankfully, Sommer and Cook said Jasper's current businesses are faring very well, which is key to the continued recruitment of businesses.
"Jasper has had a lot of wins ... and again, it's these brand names that come into town and do well. Other people want to follow them," Sommer said, adding that it's not uncommon for executives from potential businesses to make random stops in Jasper. "When they're there and they see that your Chick-fil-A line is 30 people long, and the Walmart has 300 cars in the parking lot, they're going to say, 'I want to be a part of this.'"
Lewis equated marriage to the relationship that has to be developed with business prospects.
"Getting in retail is sort of like a marriage. You have to court them and date them a while before they say 'I do' and want to come to your community. It takes a while sometimes," she said.
It took two years for the city and Chamber to finalize a deal with Five Below, for instance, and getting Applebee's to come to Jasper was also a years-long process.
If just one thing doesn't meet a potential business' criteria, it can be a deal-breaker, which is where Retail Strategies can come in to push harder to finalize a deal.
Cooper and O'Mary said providing tax incentives to new businesses has been critical to secure some retailers in Jasper, including Five Below, set to open later this year.
"The sales tax incentive really doesn't take money out of Jasper's pot, so to speak. The economic incentive is strictly on sales that are generated by the company, and the city gets half of that revenue and we get half of the revenue to make up for the deficit in our development costs," Cooper said. "Without that, you would get no money. The development couldn't happen without the participation of the city."
"That draws a significant amount of criticism from the street," O'Mary said of economic incentives. "I understand that, but absent these economic incentives, this deal's not coming to Jasper."
He expects there to come a day where Jasper is doing so well that economic incentives won't be necessary.
Sommer said the city's business climate is strong, but a concerted effort will have to continue to strengthen what Jasper has to offer.
"The city has to do a good job of recruiting jobs, keeping families here, encouraging residential neighborhoods to come in. As that grows, we can look at different levels of retail," he said.
Cooper said businesses also take crime rates and the overall culture of Walker County into consideration before making future investments.
Lewis said none of the new businesses in Jasper would have been possible without partnerships, and she's excited for what the future has to hold.
"I think this is just the beginning," she said. "Jasper is going to see growth, and our doors are open for business. They will continue to stay open for business. We've got a lot of good possibilities."
Cooper added, "There are other tenants that we're all chasing to bring to Jasper. It may take a year, it may take two years, but eventually, they'll come to the market."
Why can Jasper not get a theater?
It's the question that hundreds of Walker Countians continue to ask.
"I get this all the time, that Jasper's just been overlooked. 'Mayor just go get a movie theater.' Mr. Developer, it doesn't work that way does it?" O'Mary asked Cooper.
"They carry a little more risk," Cooper responded. "You're finding fewer developers that are interested in taking that risk."
Sommer said their company has witnessed theaters locate in small markets, but the cost of building a theater is often the reason why theaters are not built to serve smaller communities.
He said businesses don't necessarily look at population numbers as an indicator of potential success; rather, they look at the overall market and how their businesses can be of benefit to surrounding counties as well.
"You're talking about a multi-million dollar investment," O'Mary said. "Jasper has not been overlooked. These gentlemen will tell you, when somebody sees a way that they can have a profitable venture in the movie theater business in Jasper, Alabama, we'll have one."
Sommer said many companies have chosen to broaden the theater experience to include bowling and food to compliment the movie-watching experience, which would fall in line with the general public's desire to have activities for youth.
"We are exhausting every path," Cook said. "We have those relationships. We have spoken to all of them that we have those relationships with about Jasper, and we're going to exhaust that path to make sure that answer is given to your community."