Bruce Schwartau, the Regional Extension Educator for Community Economics at the University of Minnesota Extension Service made a comprehensive presentation of a retail trade analysis report to the St. James business community.
The presentation included how St. James and Watonwan County stacked up against neighboring cities and counties when it comes to competing for where consumers spend their dollars.
Approximately 40 community and business leaders attended the luncheon put on by the City’s Economic Development Authority.
Speaking at the American Legion, Schwartau said the business community needed to develop a message about what is good about being in St. James.
Central to the analysis was the economic metric know as the pull factor. The pull factor measures the size of a city’s or county’s trade area.
It’s calculated by dividing the per capita current dollar sales of a city or county by the per-capita sales of the state.
The state average is always one, so a pull factor greater than one means a city or county is pulling in business from surrounding areas. A number less than one means a city or county is losing business to other areas.
The retail pull factor for Watonwan County is 0.37. St. James fairs better with a pull factor of 0.65. Unfortunately with one being the state average, both numbers mean more potential business is going outside of the area than it is remaining in the area.
Blue Earth County (Mankato) dominates the region. In the mid 90s Blue Earth County had a pull factor slightly better than one. With the ‘big box’ (the Walmarts and Lowes of the retail world) building boom in Mankato over the last decade the Blue Earth County pull factor soared to more than 1.60 in 2009.
None of the neighboring counties are pulling the state average. The 2009 numbers show Brown County is the best at 0.73, Martin came in at 0.57, Cottonwood at 0.40, and Jackson County was the only county in the region with a pull factor less than Watonwan’s when it came in with a pull factor of 0.34.
All of the counties other than Blue Earth have shown a decline from the 1990s suggesting that Blue Earth is taking business away from its regional neighbors.
Most regions fell gradually, but Martin County fell hard. Falling from a pull factor of 0.80 in the 90s to nearly 0.50 in the mid 2000s. Martin has recovered to nearly 0.60 in 2009, and that rise might coincide with the opening of the Walmart in that county.
Schwartau said it was better to have a big box store in your town than having one ten miles down the road as people would be coming to your community to shop if there was a big box store in the town.
That might be making the best of a bad situation, as a large percentage of the revenue from big box stores are scooped up and sent to the parent HQs of those big box corporations.
While not utilizing the pull factor metric, St. James does better relative to Watonwan County. St. James has 39% of the population of the county, but has 81% of the retail sales of the county.
Molly Westman of the City of St. James Economic Development Authority who coordinated the event said, “The facts give us a chance to understand where we are and move forward from there.”
The business community can use this retail analysis to develop strategies to improve the pull factor for the city and the county. The goal would be to get prospective customers to ‘shop St. James first’.
If that happens, the economic vitality of the city and the county would be enhanced, and that should lead to an improved quality of life for the residents on St. James and Watonwan County.