Part of ElectriCities’ core purpose is promoting a more successful future for our citizens. An important component of that purpose is sparking economic growth in the communities we serve.
Oftentimes we think of economic development as large-scale negotiations that bring new manufacturing operations to town. While that is certainly an important part of our economic development activities, much more is needed for a balanced strategy.
Each year, ElectriCities Economic Development staff evaluates the target industry sectors and how we can influence these industries. Manufacturing is part of that strategy, along with biotechnology, marine trades, plastics and others. For each of these sectors, we reach out to decision makers and influencers through trade shows, direct communications and industry events. Recently, we added retail as a target sector. And for good reason.
In addition to being a major local economic impact factor, retail development is a quality of life issue. Citizens want retail establishments, such as grocery stores and restaurants, in their hometown. Strong communities have a strong retail presence – that’s where ElectriCities comes in.
ElectriCities has a strong focus on retail growth, with staff dedicated to this segment. We recently led a group of member communities to the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) RECon trade show. We joined 33,000 attendees, all focused on retail development. At the show, city officials talked directly with site selectors and retailers about bringing new investments to their hometowns. We assisted by making these connections and providing research the site selectors need to make expansion decisions.
Overall, the RECon show created tremendous excitement and interest in public power communities. And we learned quite a bit about the current outlook in the retail sector. For the first time in several years, the mood in retail is now positive and moving forward. What’s more, we learned that big box retailer growth will remain slow, with growth coming in the form of smaller concepts focused on personal care and service. We also learned that more distribution centers will be needed in order to fulfill customer demands – which presents a great opportunity for North Carolina, thanks to our ideal locations and excellent highway system.
All in all, developers and retail brokers came to our booth in record numbers, asking about a specific city or region from our membership. We know this means we have even more work to do in order to help our members prepare for the “perfect storm” that’s brewing in the retail industry. And our economic development team is up for that challenge.