Editorial: Rock Island wisely turns to retail marketing professionals

More than $200 million.

That number has been buzzing around our heads since we first were told that this startling sum is how much Illinois Quad-Cities consumers are spending each year, not here at home, but in such places as the Iowa Quad-Cities, Des Moines and Chicagoland.

On its own that figure would be worrisome. But when viewed alongside other statistics including population growth, housing starts, property values and sales tax collection, it should prompt those who care about our community to pledge to do something about the disparity in economic growth in our bistate region.

We continue to believe that the Quad-Cities works best when it brings two viable, relatively equal partners to the table. Absent critical balanced growth, it is only a matter of time before one side dominates the other and the resulting deterioration in the junior partner drags down everyone.

So whenever a local government takes aggressive steps to attack the problem, it deserves the entire Q-C’s support. For example, we salute the overwhelming approval Monday by Rock Island aldermen of a plan to hire Retail Attractions to help market the city to major retailers.

Rock Island’s wise decision to enter into a 12-month contract with the Oklahoma-based consultant is similar to an arrangement the city of Moline has with Retail Strategies, the consultant charged with helping it attract restaurant and retail there. As part of their service, both firms rely on market analysis that includes the kind of accurate data we are told developers and businesses crave in determining where to site new branches.

Rock Island staff is clearly high on what Retail Attractions and its leader, Rickie Hayes, former economic development director for the city of Owasso, Okla., have to offer, including bringing to the table excellent contacts with large retailers which should help the city attract significant development to the commercial properties it owns.

“We should have a number of major site visits within the next year from developers and retailers,”  Rock Island Economic Development Director Jeff Eder told aldermen.

The company touts its experience, efficiency and, in particular, its contacts on a website (retailattractions.com) which showcases some of those contacts and includes testimonials from leaders of cities, businesses and brokers who found success thanks to the company. While the majority of them appear to be in Texas and Oklahoma, we’re told the consultant also has done effective work in the Midwest.

Retail Attractions also emphasizes that their clients get a lot of bang for their buck. And, if he’s right, the relatively inexpensive deal agreed to by Rock Island aldermen Monday  will give the city economic development expertise and opportunities not possible without adding full-time staff to R.I.’s development department. (Consider, for example, that the city will pay the company $3,000 per month plus a $7,500 fee to conduct an initial market analysis, rather than lay out the significantly higher cost for a fulltime workers’ salary with benefits each year.)

If we have one concern, it is that the effort will focus solely on big box retailers to the exclusion of the kinds of medium- to small-sized retailers who are often the backbone of a local economy.

A new Dick’s Sporting Goods Store, such as the one Retail Strategies helped to secure for Moline, is wonderful, but how much better would it be if Moline’s consultant also is successful in attracting other retailers and restaurants of all sizes?

Of course, we’ll happily leave the important work of creating a development strategy and executing it to the professionals. There is too much at stake, not to.

Please join us in saluting Rock Island leaders and city staff for recognizing that, and for acting on it.