Brownwood's message to developers and retailers who are interested in coming here: the city is open for business.
But there are some challenges as the city continues its quest to recruit new retail business, including an inadequate number of sites for new businesses on which to locate, and prices on land that aren't always in line with what developers are willing to pay.
Those were among the topics of discussion Thursday as the Retail Advisory Committee met with Aaron Farmer of The Retail Coach, the consultant the city, chamber of commerce and economic development corporation have hired to help recruit businesses.
Farmer said there have been "some great contacts" resulting from the Regional Conference of the International Council of Shopping Centers, which local officials and Farmer attended last month in San Antonio. Interest in Brownwood is high, Farmer said.
Without revealing specifics, Farmer said four developers have visited Brownwood in the past month and two have made offers on properties. Six or seven retailers have also expressed interest in Brownwood and about half of those have indicated they'll be "investing in the community" soon, Farmer said. He declined to say whether those retailers have located sites.
Farmer said a marketing analysis of Brownwood contains strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and "threats."
Strengths include the presence of Howard Payne University students, who spend $3 million annually; Underwood's Cafeteria, an icon that draws people from well beyond Brownwood; a good working relationship between the city, chamber and economic development corporation; low crime rate; and a regional hospital.
Weaknesses include insufficiencies in entertainment and high paying jobs, low household income, the presence of empty buildings and areas on need of "redevelopment."
Opportunities include retail growth to the south, a market for "casual sit-down restaurants."
"Threats" include competition with surrounding communities, the economy, the proximity to Abilene and parking issues.
Haynes asked if there is sufficient space for new retail. "No, not really," Farmer replied.
That prompted a discussion on the difficulty in finding sites, and in the disparity that sometimes exists between the amount property owners want to sell for and the amount developers will pay. Retail Advisory Committee members said they want to caution property owners to refrain from raising the prices of land they want to sell because they have learned that retailers want to come to Brownwood.
Retail Advisory Committee members and Farmer discussed plans for moving forward. Mayor Stephen Haynes suggested having a "summit" meeting of developers and property owners. Farmer said The Retail Coach will assist in developing a marketing plan that touts Brownwood as a regional trade area. Farmer recommended that local officials continue attending retail conferences.
Farmer also discussed the idea of incentives the city might offer, or be asked to offer, to developers. He said The Retail Coach "is not a huge fan" of incentives but "in certain cases they're necessary." Farmer said the city needs to think about what it is willing to give in terms of incentives.