When it seems like all the news these days is bad news, I’ve decided to fight back by embracing my contrarian side. You say tomato I’ll say tomoto. Despite the forecast for another 365 days of doom and gloom I’m sure that there’s a sunny side of the street so I’m putting on my sun tan lotion and stepping out. I’m not trying to be a poly-anna but seriously what’s the alternative here? We can run but we can’t hide so I say we turn and fight. To heck with the economy. If it doesn’t want to cooperate we don’t need no stinking economy. From now on the economy can talk to the hand because the head ain’t putting up with it anymore. One of the things I love about Kent is it’s rebellious spirit and it seems to me we need that now more than ever. If the economy wants to push us around we’re going to push it right back. Let’s get ready to rumble.
The cynics would say these are economic forces beyond our control, so give it up Kent there’s nothing you could do about it. That’s true we could roll over, throw our hands up in despair, wave the white flag and cry uncle but who wants to play the role of the victim in this economic drama? I sure don’t. I prefer the maverick outcast that never learned how to play by everyone else’s rules and right or wrong he took matters into his own hands. That guy may lose but he’s going down in a blaze of glory of his own doing rather than playing a role in someone else’s script. I see a lot of Kent in that guy.
I always appreciate the decorated captain who in his dress uniform stoically went down with his sinking ship (usually in full salute) but that’s where his plot line ended. It always seemed to me that the swashbuckling pirate had a lot more sense as he swung from the mast line to get off the boat before it sank so his tale could carry on. Maybe I’ve watched Pirates of the Caribbean too many times with my kids but that reckless spirit in the face of adversity keeps me on the edge of my seat ready for whatever the future throws at us tomorrow. I see a lot of that pirate in Kent too.
Without delving too far into philosophical debate I guess the bottom line for me is that we can accept our economic fate as a fait accompli or we can try to participate in changing it. For me, Kent is worth fighting for and I’m not planning to go down without a fight. Picking up on yesterday’s retail theme that means we understand that a growing number of national and regional retailers are cutting back expansion plans but we’re not going to call it quits — we’re just going to roll up our sleeves and get busy.
That means more cold calls. More aggressive outreach efforts. More networking. With the same number of cities competing for a smaller number of retailers looking to open new stores it’s gut check time. It may be pie in the sky dreaming but we’re sticking to our goal to fill all of our vacant retail store fronts. We may not get there but we’re sure going to try.
While there will always be some retail building turnover due to renovations or replacement locations, the rate of new retail space generated in 2008 to open in 2009 is down sharply from previous years according to the latest data from McGraw-Hill Construction through July. From January to July of this year, all retail subclasses tracked by McGraw-Hill Construction slowed by more than a third (down 37.4 percent from last year) compared with similar periods during prior years. The only retail property category that is still seeing impressive growth is freestanding drug stores, which showed an 18.5 percent faster rate of expansion in 2008 than in 2007. Supermarkets saw a slight increase of .9 percent increase in new square footage in 2008. McGraw-Hill reported the drugstore and grocery categories both represent consumer spending staples.
Retail in mixed-use properties is down more than 40 percent in 2008. The 2009 outlook for national retail expansion doesn’t look to improve – at least according to the Urban Land Institute’s and PricewaterhouseCoopers’ annual Emerging Trends in Real Estate report. In the report, more than 700 commercial real estate experts were surveyed for their opinion of the prospects of property types in 2009.
Respondents ranked retail property types only above for-sale housing. On a scale of one to nine, with nine being excellent and one being abysmal, retail was scored at 4.26 as an investment option and a 3.95 rating as a development option. Across the board, the report found that experts expect the commercial real estate industry to experience a rough – and lengthy – correction.
This adds up to high stakes in a notoriously low margin business so numbers count more than ever before. Retail decisions are being put through the data ringer as no one is willing to risk entering an uncertain market without solid data to go by. That’s why we spent the time to get industry data on our trade area through the Buxton Company last year. We are using that data to help the retailers see through the risk and make decisions to locate new businesses in Kent.
We see this economic climate as a chance to push harder. With limited budgets we’re making sure that developers know us, know Dan Smith our Economic Development Director, and we’re making sure they know that they can call anytime to get information about land in the city, permit process or anything else. We tell anyone that calls that if they’re working on getting something up and going in Kent, we’ll be their adjunct staff. Tell us when and where and we’ll be there.
A lot of communities may be thinking ‘duck and cover,’ ‘hope and pray,’ ‘batten down the hatches,’ but we taking a good, long look at ourselves and our inner workings in order to improve, and trying to play on our strengths. Despite the economic malaise retailers have to grow to survive and what matters to them is the same thing that’s always mattered: location, opportunity, cost and demographics.
We believe that retailers will be looking for expansion opportunities that are more inline with a newer, tighter growth plan. They’re going to be looking for that perfect location, possibly consolidating, and that’s happening with several retailers, like Old Navy, owned by Gap, which is moving to a retail square footage of 2,000 or 3,000.
Our challenge is to find and show retailers that our community is that perfect place for their location profile.