Economic development plan presented

Published 7:00 am Thursday, June 14, 2018

Wednesday afternoon, Chuck Branch of NextSite presented a plan to bring in new business opportunities to help grow Picayune’s economy. The presentation was held at Picayune’s City Hall.

Branch said that a large part of a city’s economic development is proactive retail recruitment. This means, instead of waiting to see if a retail chain will show interest in opening a store in the nearby community, a city should conduct market research and reach out to developers instead, he said.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Branch said a lot of corporate workers and developers who do not live in the area have the feeling that Katrina only happened a few years ago. They look at this part of the country and assume that the economy is still recovering and that there are no business opportunities to be explored. Because of this, Branch said his company does detailed analysis on consumer traffic, demographics, and overall market analysis to bring hard evidence to these companies demonstrating they could not only bring their business to the area, but make a profit as well.

A lot of people in Picayune travel out of the city to do their shopping, Branch said. This leads to what he called “leakage” out of Picayune’s economy and into surrounding cities such as Slidell, Hattiesburg, Gulfport and beyond. To combat this, he said research can determine where people are going, such as shopping centers, restaurants and grocery stores, and determine what needs to be added in Picayune and what existing businesses can be improved. An analysis could be conducted on municipalities similar to Picayune to see what is successful in other rural communities to determine what might do well here.

Branch said NextSite was recently hired by Mississippi Power to assist in the development of cities in the coverage area. Since Picayune falls within Mississippi Power’s coverage area, Branch said NextSite’s service fees would be approximately 50 percent cheaper because of the partnership with the power company.

Concerns were raised among the audience concerning a similar effort several years ago that resulted in no economic change. The city paid $50,000 to Retail Strategies to conduct similar studies to no end. Since Branch was a member of Retail Strategies around that time, several expressed concern that the same thing would happen again.

Branch said while he was with the other company during the initial pitch to the city, he left shortly after because of concerns he had about the business’ policies.

“Your experience is why I’m no longer there,” he said.

This time, Branch said the fees would not only be more cost-effective, NextSite would be on a three-year contract. This means that even if no opportunities are available after their initial 60-day analysis, the company would continue updating the results and reanalyze Picayune’s market to determine the best way to help the economy grow during the course of the contract. In addition, Branch promised that Picayune would be represented in at least 25 to 30 International Council of Shopping Centers conferences.

Branch ended his presentation by asking city representatives to consider his proposal. If so, he will return to officially speak to the City Council and move forward from there.