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Leakage study results to be released

by Sharon Carter

As professor Tom Harris crunches the Douglas County numbers, he says he’s encouraged.

“As it becomes larger and larger, Douglas County is becoming big enough to capture and recirculate its (formerly) lost sales tax dollars and expand its commercial sectors,” said Harris, who is the director of the University of Nevada, Reno Center for Economic Development.

Harris said by Dec. 22 he will have the numbers tabulated.

“It will be information people can use to decide what to do in the future,” he said Monday. “I can tell you, what we’re finding is there’s no one target for the county, that the different areas require different commercial targets. For example, developing the commercial segment for the Jacks Valley area will be completely different than from the Topaz area.”

Working out of UNR’s College of Agriculture, Harris focuses on rural economic issues. He, together with Kathy Halbardier, director of the Nevada Small Business Development Center of UNR’s College of Business, recently completed a “retail leakage” survey for Douglas County. The data Harris is analyzing is that which Halbardier and her students gathered from 400 households randomly selected from neighborhoods throughout Douglas County.

Harris is also comparing the Douglas data and commercial sector indexes with others gathered in Carson City, Churchill and Lyon counties.

n Important tool. Kris Holt, executive director of the Northern Nevada Development Authority in Carson City, believes the information the survey provides will be a valuable tool for attracting commercial businesses to the entire region.

“Even though it’s Douglas County, what they’re working on shows everything coming together regionally – whatever happens at one place impacts another,” Holt said. “Businesses today have to have all the tools they can to be competitive. They’re creating a tool a national franchise or retailer can use in its formula to bring in branch operations. It’s a detailed, sophisticated marketing tool we’ve never had (before).”

The survey, for which the county commission paid $18,000, was designed to update and add to information Harris gathered in a similar study in 1989. He said the new study goes into greater detail.

“Residents shop (at home) in Douglas County for proximity reasons, because it’s close and easy for them,” Harris said. “They shop outside the county – particularly in the malls in Carson City or Reno – for selection. We found that the prices of the items don’t differ much and price wasn’t that important. The shopping malls offer variety and people like variety.”

And also, the survey found, if one or more members of a Douglas County household works in Carson City or Reno, more likely than not, a good portion of that household’s regular shopping is being done in Carson City or Reno.

Halbardier, who lives in the North County and works in Reno, says like many other such residents she does most of her own shopping north of the Douglas County line because it is convenient.

“In some ways the results won’t be that surprising,” Halbardier said. “They prove some things we’ve already figured out but didn’t have hard data for. Now we’ve got the numbers rather than relying on our best guess.”

n Tracking trends. Halbardier said she expects the survey to generate at least as many questions as it answers.

“We’re tracking national, area and local economic trends – looking at housing starts, sales and population growth to see where the growth is and what the needs are,” she said. “Right now, with the projected growth for the area, it’s hard to envision any area in Douglas County dying. But we’re finding that we need to be more open to the kind of movement that’s happening in the North County, we need those things to sustain us.”

Harris agreed with Halbardier that the preparations for “big box” retailers in Douglas’ North County area help tell the tale. He also said the information the survey provides will help economic planners encourage the county’s export or “demand side” businesses, gaming and manufacturing, as well as increasing the efficiency of its “supply side” retail businesses.

“You can judge the health of local economies by their retail sectors,” Harris said. “Like canaries in the mines, commercial sectors are good indicators of when the economy is turning sour. That (North County) activity tells us Douglas County is on the move.”

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