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Final retail leakage report set for commission meeting

by Linda Hiller

The biggest challenge facing Douglas County leaders in the future will be to handle the population growth and provide retail and business opportunities while maintaining the county’s coveted rural atmosphere, according to a professor from the University of Nevada, Reno.

“The green spaces are nice in Douglas County – that’s what people like about it there,” said Professor Tom Harris from UNR’s Center for Economic Development. “Things do change and grow up, but the challenge is to capture the retail trade while maintaining the rural atmosphere there.”

Harris conducted a retail leakage study in 1998, funded by the Douglas County Commission for $18,000. The initial findings of the study were presented at a public meeting Dec. 22. At that time, Harris reported that more than half of the $325 million that Douglas County residents spent for goods and services last year was spent outside the county.

The final report will be presented at tomorrow’s commission meeting in the old courthouse. Harris will be joined by Kathy Halbardier and Dick Bartholet of the Nevada Small Business Development Center.

“When we had the meeting in December, we took comments from the people of the county and we’ll be talking about that on Thursday,” Harris said. “We’ll also be looking at ‘OK, now I’ve got the information, what do we do next?’ We’ll have some suggestions for looking at the development of retail trade – looking at sectors, such as department stores, some childcare or family care, car dealerships, for example.”

n Live here, work there equals spending there. In a telephone survey of 400 county residents, Harris said his UNR student pollsters found that where county residents work directly affects where they shop.

“We asked people where they shop and buy groceries, and we also got socioeconomic data on them. We found that if they worked outside of Douglas, that’s where the leakage started,” Harris said. “If it’s on the way, people will stop and shop. With more people working in the county, we’d have less leakage.”

Harris said it isn’t price that necessarily drives people out of rural areas to shop.

“We know that when people go to shop in Reno, it’s the variety they’re after,” he said. “Prices aren’t that different between rural and urban markets, but urban areas will always have the advantage in offering variety.”

Well-planned retail offerings in Douglas County could draw customers from many outlying areas, Harris said.

“They’re going to capture trade from all the way to Bridgeport,” he said. “When people go shop they like to do one-stop shopping. We could target Topaz for retail, for example.”

n Strategic plan.While Harris did the study, he is reluctant to predict the best course of action for Douglas County.

“This is where I like to do strategic planning – I know people live in Douglas County because they like the rural aspect. We have some sectors that look good, but I like to get the people’s input. I know many people want it to stay the same, but grow at the same time.”

n Hard evidence. Halbardier, who lives in Johnson Lane, said the retail leakage study gives the county a concrete document to present to retailers such as Target , Home Depot and Costco, when trying to woo them to locate stores in the area.

“Before the study, we all knew that people didn’t shop here, but when we did the telephone survey, we broke them up by prefix and tried to get everybody from the Lake down to Topaz,” she said. “Now that we’ve proven the areas we’re weak in, we can target our weak areas, and work to position ourselves. Growth is going to happen anyhow, why not target it rather than have it run rampant?”

“We don’t want to find out after the fact that we could have done it better,” she said.

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