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City officials working to attract retailers to Newton

Published: Tuesday, June 3, 2014 10:39 a.m. CDT

While people nationwide were watching the ESPN broadcast and learning about the city during the Get To Know Newton 250 race on May 18, a few local officials spent the weekend promoting the city in a different way.

Newton Development Specialist Craig Armstrong, Newton Development Corporation Executive Director Frank Liebl and Newton Director of Finance and Development Bryan Friedman were networking with national brand retailers while attending “RECon the Global Retail Real Estate Convention” in Las Vegas.

With the national platform that ESPN provided, Armstrong said they used the exposure to help spark conversations with some of the retailers and kept track of how many times they saw the logo on television and how many times the race’s name was mentioned.

“It was kind of an advantage for us, because although not everyone is a race fan, many people were aware of Iowa Speedway and the NASCAR Nationwide Series,” Armstrong said. “We pointed out on many occasions that the City of Newton was the title sponsor of the Get To Know Newton 250 NASCAR Nationwide Series Race, which was a conversation starter in four or five different conversations.”

The ultimate goal for the group was to drum up retail interest in Newton, and Armstrong said having the race named after the city helped establish credibility with some of the people they met with.

“Did we come away with any definite hits with retailers signing up to come to Newton? No,” Armstrong said. “It wasn’t the objective; we knew for sure that we weren’t going to have a retailer sign up at the convention. Would we have turned them away, of course not, but there was no expectation of leaving the convention with a retailer in hand.

“The objective was to see as many of the retailers as we possibly could to present our case in a compelling and logical manner. (Afterwards), we would set up future conversations to be had and those are already taking place. The follow-up to the convention is as important or more so than the actual convention itself. In everything we hoped to accomplish, and to say I was more than pleased would be an understatement.”

Taking this trip was another step in the city’s efforts to lure businesses. In September, the city council authorized $140,000 to have a comprehensive retail assessment report conducted by the Buxton Company based out of Forth-Worth, Texas. Buxton has worked with cities all over the U.S. and in Iowa the city of Indianola is listed as a client.

“They do an incredibly detailed analysis of demographics and psychographics of the community and also the demographics and psychographics of retailers that match our demographics and psychographics,” Armstrong said about Buxton. “I couldn’t believe the incredible detail that is in this analysis.”

Armstrong said figures from the report showcased Newton had more potential matches than they had previously estimated. He said Newton had 100 matches and that the city chose about 20 of those matches to make contact with.

Another concept of the study is finding the primary development areas for Newton, and the 164 and 168 exits for Interstate 80 were shown to be Newton’s primary development area. Armstrong said he knows many people consider the area by Iowa Speedway to be the “Golden Cow” for retail development, but he believes there’s room for development all over Newton.

“I think there’s good property to develop right off of exit 164, downtown and particularly on the eastern edge of town,” Armstrong said. “In the core of downtown, there are many build-able lots especially on 12th street going east from the old Jiffy Lube and surrounding lots.

“This isn’t just confined to the area just off the exits and if we look at more locations, some of it may happen a lot sooner. We may have potential retailers that could go into existing buildings in Newton that can be remodeled or retrofitted for retailers.”

As the city has been making pitches to retailers, Armstrong said they’ve had to educate a lot of them on the current things that are taking place in Newton and how the economy has stabilized after the initial down years post-Maytag. He said they’ve been getting a lot of “Wow, I didn’t know that,” type of responses.

“The retailers had more of a genuine interest in finding out more about Newton,” Armstrong said.

The city’s attempts to lure more businesses to town isn’t just about giving Newtonians another place to shop, the city is hoping stop some of the massive retail leakage.

“Retail leakage is the amount of money that our population isn’t spending in Newton,” Armstrong said. “Which means we’re not getting the sales tax dollars. Retailers aren’t able to sell the products or services that represents that area of retail leakage. What we want to do is to close that leakage gap by attracting new big box and moderate national brand retailers to town.”

Staff writer Zach Johnson may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 425, or at zjohnson@newtondailynews.com.

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