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Retail study funding questioned
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Liberty County commissioners Tuesday didn’t refuse a request for funding to hire a consultant to recruit retail business, but not all of the commissioners appeared to like the idea.
“I’ve never seen a consultant bring a business into Hinesville,” Commissioner Eddie Walden said during the group’s July meeting.
The request was from a retail-attraction team formed after the Liberty Countywide Planning Workshop in May, and was presented by Vicki Davis, who is executive director of the Hinesville Downtown Development Authority.
No vote was taken on the request. Walden said the agenda listed it as a report, not an action item. Chairman Donald Lovette asked that the issue be moved to the commission’s mid-month meeting in two weeks.
It is not clear whether Walden’s view will prevail.
“We need retail development like we never have before,” Lovette said, “and there needs to be some type of coordination.”
Davis said the team had determined the county should contribute $2,000 toward the $32,000 for a year’s contract with Retail Strategies. For that money, the Birmingham, Ala.-based firm has told the team it would analyze local demographics and markets and estimate residents’ and businesses’ buying patterns to see how much is spent outside the county that could be spent locally. Then, the consultants would use all that information to help recruit businesses.
Under questioning by Walden, Davis said she believed the consultants would help recruit retail business, both merchandise and entertainment.
She said government and private organizations are being approached for money and that the initial response has been positive, though the county was the first formally asked for money.
“The initial understanding is people know the need,” Davis said, adding that groups with representatives on the team — the chamber of commerce, Liberty County Development Authority and HDDA — do not have the resources to do the type of work that Retail Strategies offers.
“We’ve done a considerable amount…” she said. “But to go the next step, outside resources are needed.”
Commissioners Pat Bowen and Gary Gilliard were not at Tuesday’s meeting. The others present were not as obvious as Walden and Lovette on where they stood on the issue.
Commissioner Marion Stevens, who arrived at the meeting in the middle of Davis’ presentation, simply asked about the materials she presented.
Commissioners Connie Thrift and Justin Frasier had participated in earlier discussions with the attraction team, according to Lovette.
Tuesday, Frasier asked Davis about earlier efforts to recruit business and whether existing groups could use Retail Strategies’ information to continue recruiting after its contract expires. Davis said yes.
Thrift implied she was willing to try the consultants since earlier attempts have not attracted the number of businesses that she believes the area should have.
“We’ve heard for years that Hinesville needs it, needs places to shop and more nice restaurants,” Thrift said.

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