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FINDLAY, OH, March 25, 2017

Chris Oaks spoke with Findlay-Hancock County Economic Development Director Tim Mayle.

Q: For the third year in a row, Findlay-Hancock County has been designated the top micropolitan community in America, but this news was followed almost immediately by the announcement of the pending closure of another major retailer here. Is this a sign of trouble?

A: When you look at the overall situation with JCPenney, and Sears before that, these closures are not a reflection of our community so much as it is a reflection of difficulties at the corporate level and in the retail market itself. That being said, economic development certainly encompasses retail, and the challenges in that sector are well documented.

Q: But while a large number of JCPenney and Sears stores are closing, not all of them are. How do you convince retailers that ours is a community worth investing in, rather than one that is expendable?

A: It all comes down to marketing, not unlike with industrial development, and selling yourself to these companies. They may see Findlay simply as a city of 41,000 people, and that’s it. But we are in fact the top micropolitan community in America, and that says we’re different. It speaks to the fact that we are a vibrant, growing community with good jobs and money to spend. We are also a regional hub, a retail destination for people in surrounding communities. It’s also important to look ahead and sell our community’s future. Those “leading indicators” that point to the fact that we’re growing and where that growth will be, which is critical data to influence those decisions.

Q: In the larger picture, do you view retail development more for the jobs they provide, or from a quality-of-life standpoint?

A: I would say more from the quality-of-life aspect, since most have a relatively small workforce. But that’s not to say those jobs are unimportant. As you know, Big R is in the process of taking over the former Sears space at the mall, and we’re hoping to facilitate the transition of some of the individuals who will be displaced at JCPenney to new positions there. Also, from the quality-of-life standpoint, a vibrant retail sector is one of the things companies look at when making decisions on industrial development, so it all goes hand-in-hand.

Q: Speaking of the mall, there has been much speculation about the future of the Findlay Village Mall, even more so with the loss of another major anchor store. Is the mall still a viable business enterprise?

A: Like everyone, we certainly want to see the mall filled. We intentionally have a relationship with JJ Gumberg, we make it a point to travel to Pittsburgh at least once a year and also to meet when they are here. In addition to that ongoing dialogue, I actually spoke with them earlier this week about the JCPenney space. We want to make sure they have all the data that I mentioned earlier, which will help them pitch what they have to offer to potential tenants. We spoke about thinking broadly, beyond the traditional retail definition, to opportunities that may exist with hybrid businesses such as Dave & Busters that combine retail and entertainment and are popular with our growing younger demographic. In the end, of course, the mall itself is a private business, not a public entity, but they know we want to be a partner in telling our community’s story.

Q: Some people may think that the loss of larger chain stores or “big box stores” may not be such a bad thing, because it opens opportunities for local retailers. But is there a trickle-down effect?

A: Certainly. It’s called “retail leakage.” A consumer who leaves town to shop at a store we don’t have here may very well decide, for simplicity’s sake, to just buy everything they need on that trip out of town, rather than making multiple stops. There’s no question we view local entrepreneurs as a critical part of our business environment, which is why we have a whole office dedicated to that, but the ideal landscape involves a solid mix of local and corporate retail spaces.