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The Importance of City Website Design for Economic Development

Written by
Rickey Hayes (Retail Attractions, LLC) and
Rob Nichols (Torxweb Design, LLC)

If you’re reading this, chances are your city is looking to grow by increasing sales tax revenue through economic development. One way to grow your tax base is by recruiting retail development. One of the key components of successful recruitment is your city’s website. Most companies will start their retail site selection research on the internet, and each project will have its own set of unique parameters. It is not enough that your city meets these requirements. For your city to be selected as a possible location, you have to sell your city. Get the information out there and let the potential investors know what you have to offer. Your city’s website will more than likely be your first chance to make a good impression on the potential developer or investor. If your website is out of date or lacking in information critical to investors, your website presents an unorganized city that is not prepared to support growth. Progressive cities are recognizing the need to aggressively market themselves and create economic greenhouses in preparation for growth.

One of the most critical pieces of information for a city’s website is current demographics for your city and trade area. If your city has a unique trade area or unique demographics, site selectors need to be made aware of this information. Take this opportunity to showcase what your city has to offer. If incentives are available to potential developers, your website should provide information on these incentives especially if they are unique to your community. With so many cities competing for the same development projects, your city has to be aggressive in marketing its potential.

The organization and presentation of your city’s information is another key element in making your city attractive to potential developers. Information should be easy to find, up-to-date and thorough. Your website should convey that your city is ready and willing to work with developers on any issue that may arise. Each department should have their own page with direct contact information, and pertinent documents such as permits and standards should be clearly posted. This is your chance to show potential investors that your city is organized and ready to help make their development project a success.

Lastly, let’s discuss the most commonly overlooked element in municipal web design, search engine optimization (SEO). A website that has been optimized for search engine accessibility has content that is highly searchable and easily indexed. Having an optimized website is important when an investor is searching for information on potential sites. Optimizing your cities website will ensure investors find your official city website and the most relevant information when searching for details about your city.

Retail Attractions has teamed up with Torxweb Design ( to create a content management website solution with municipalities in mind. The CMS provides the tools a city needs to maintain an active, up-to-date website and also provides search engine optimization as one of the top priorities. When a potential developer searches for information about your city, it is critical that your city’s website dominates the search engine results for these types of queries and clearly presents key information about your city. To find out more about having a website designed for your city, contact Retail Attractions or Torxweb Design.

To find out more about having a website designed for your city, contact Retail Attractions or Torxweb Design.

Rickey Hayes is the principal of Retail Attractions, LLC, a firm dedicated to helping cities and developers successfully find retail sites, close deals and improve the quality of life for our client cities.
Rob Nichols is the principal of Torxweb Design, LLC, a web site design firm specializing in content management based website design and development.

Retail and the “Quality of Life” Factor

Written by
Rickey Hayes
Retail Attractions, LLC

What makes a city great? The “cool” factor, an affordable cost of living, good schools and low crime rate are just some of the qualities that come to mind. An infrastructure that can support growth and well planned residential subdivisions are also crucial if a community truly desires to be “world class”. Quality retail development is another ingredient that is absolutely essential for a city to be considered at the top of the list.

Of course, people with different lifestyles will look for different criteria. For example, single professionals look for quality employment and may rank a short commute time near the top of their list while families with young children will undoubtedly consider education a priority. Good jobs are essential to a community’s economy. Suburban cities may depend on near-by urban area for jobs, but in smaller, more remote towns, and even in larger micropolitan areas, communities must be able to provide employment opportunities. Job availability is always a priority for a growing community, but there is a growing trend seen in these modern times. Younger people are now looking at location before they decide on where they will work. They are seeking a quality of life first, job second. In the past, the place of employment was the driver, now the location and its attributes may influence the growth more than the availability of jobs. Many employees can work from their homes, so this phenomenon may increase more in the years to come.

One thing at the heart of all growing communities is a strong and vibrant retail base. Having all the essential retail services available in the city is critical for a city that wants to grow. Communities should recruit suitable retail and market themselves to attract retail investment. In states like Oklahoma, where general fund revenue comes from sales tax, cities that are not actively growing their retail base are in the process of decay whether they realize it or not.

Insightful, proactive planning helps enrich the experiences of residents, helps businesses in the area and helps cities make the transition into the next phase of growth. Cities are changing, and government officials must be sensitive to changing trends and demographics. The next generation of younger urban residents is much more demanding in their expectations of what “quality of life” means.

The retail sector is always connected to quality of life. Cities can influence growth and investment. Cities can and should market themselves to maximize retail growth and the corresponding sales tax revenue that retail brings to the table.

Rickey Hayes is the principal of Retail Attractions, LLC, a firm dedicated to helping cities and developers successfully find retail sites, close deals and improve the quality of life for our client cities.

Is there a benefit to ICSC membership?

Written by
Rickey Hayes
Retail Attractions, LLC

Cities and towns across America, and really, globally, compete for a limited number of retail store openings each year. The past two years’ economic challenges mean the number of new retail store openings, refurbishments or expansions is significantly smaller and therefore more hotly contested than ever. More and more communities are waking up to retail growth as an economic development strategy and are trying to attract new businesses.

Not only can retail growth add jobs and improve the quality of life in a community, but sales tax revenue from retail sales also drives the economic engine of just about every community in the country. Attracting retail isn’t as easy as it often seems…. Cities must stay on top of market trends, technological tools, development rules and regulations, and still find time to effectively market themselves to the right people.

One of the best tools we’ve found to help cities who want to grow their retail sector is membership in the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC). Each year more and more communities are taking advantage of the great networking possibilities that exist at the ICSC events held regularly around the country, especially the annual spring convention in Las Vegas. Although the economy has recently affected the attendance at the national and regional events, ICSC events are still one of the most effective ways a community can broadcast its retail needs and market its strengths. ICSC research provides crucial data on market trends, both globally and at the local level. Being able to think and plan ahead and react in a timely way helps a governmental entity stay on top of sometimes unpredictable market trends. For that reason alone, cities should encourage key staff members to become ICSC members.

Attendees at the events, whether local, regional or national, are always from a broad spectrum of the retail world. Real estate professionals, brokers, lawyers, consultants, site selectors, developers, architects, engineers, and others all share their wares with retailers and communities who are represented at the events. The ICSC organization also does a great job of providing cutting edge data relevant to the needs of the retail community and governmental entities involved in the various disciplines of retail development.

Retail Attractions, LLC represents our client cities at ICSC events three times a year, and our partner cities benefit from our ICSC involvement. Over the last several years, I can tie hundreds of thousands of square feet of retail development directly back to a meeting at an ICSC event.

Now is the Time for Cities to Plan Their Retail Future

Written by
Rickey Hayes
Retail Attractions, LLC

Even casual observers of the news media can’t help but notice the coverage on the retail industry over the last few months. Scores of national retailers have announced bankruptcy in 2008 and 2009. Retailers who were growing aggressively only a few months ago have stopped looking for new sites and are re-evaluating growth plans for the 2010-2011 development cycles. Unfortunately, the consensus among industry leaders is that it is not over yet. However, many in the retail and development communities understand the cyclic nature of their industry, and are quietly planning growth strategies for the future.

So what does this mean for a city trying to recruit retail in order to boost over-all quality of life and generate much needed sales tax revenue?

It means growing cities must understand the basics of retail development and how to pro-actively position themselves at the top of the list for when future retail growth opportunities present themselves. One of the first things a community can do is to analyze and verify their true Trade Area; once the consumers in that trade area are identified, specific sets of information must be communicated to the retail world. In the past, a “concentric ring” approach was used to determine the strength of a retail market. For many cities, a one, three, or five mile radius does not even begin to accurately describe their retail market and potential draw. Cities should be aggressive in defining and marketing their retail potential to site selectors, retailers/restaurants, and brokers.

Even in the current economy, many retailers and restaurants are still expanding, and working to fill their real estate pipeline for 2010, 2011 and 2012. But they are also paying special attention to their real estate decisions. National retailers are prioritizing their investments and picking markets where the best return is available. Fewer deals mean more competition and cities must be their own advocates to the retail marketplace.

To land new retail in your community, you need to be providing the right information. Things to include in your marketing strategies are:
• Clearly define and verify your trade area using third-party data
• Be able to identify and describe the consumers within your trade area
• Provide the most current demographics and psychographics to specific retailers you are targeting
• Realize the retail potential within your community
• Analyze leakage and then target retailers who could fill the missing niches

Retail Attractions, LLC provides its client cities with valuable data and strategies to harness their full retail potential. Communities that are aggressive in marketing themselves to the retail world will be strategically set when the economy begins to strengthen.

Rickey Hayes is the principal of Retail Attractions, LLC, a firm dedicated to helping cities and developers successfully find retail sites, close deals and improve the quality of life for our client cities.

Marketing Cities with Technology

Written by
Rickey Hayes
Retail Attractions, LLC

One of the first tasks a city must master to gain a competitive advantage is applying technology appropriately. In long-term efforts to reach out to new businesses, retailers and potential residents, efficiently using state of the art technology allows cities to reach more people with the right message more quickly. The Internet has fundamentally changed the way place marketing is done. Web site optimization, social media, and email have changed former business models completely, and those communities not adopting a more modern, business-like approach and using technology to market themselves will lose opportunity in a highly competitive arena.

In today’s world, people shop, learn, communicate, and are entertained while seated in front of a computer or web-enabled Smartphone. A community that wishes to be in the middle of progress must be on the cutting edge of technology. I am not just saying cities should use technology for the sake of showing how many widgets can be placed on the homepage, but instead carefully apply available technology to set the city apart. If the city’s location is unique, for instance, don’t tell about it on the web site: show it via video clips on YouTube or another video sharing site. Do the people really shine? Let them via a forum, resident blog, or by featuring user content somehow.

A city has to think ahead of growth because if they react instead of being proactive, they are continually behind the curve and always trying to catch up with other, more competitive communities. When a retailer, developer, or potential new industry begins research for investment opportunities in new communities and markets, that search begins on the Internet. If your city has a poorly designed web site or does not provide accurate, easy to find data, your community may be overlooked or even eliminated from the search. With easy-to-use website solution and innovative site construction, first impressions can become lasting business relationships.

Rickey Hayes is the principal of Retail Attractions, LLC, a firm dedicated to helping cities and developers successfully find retail sites, close deals and improve the quality of life for our client cities.

A Primer for Cities on Retail Development


More and more cities and communities are realizing that growing their retail base wisely is an integral part of any balanced and long-term economic development strategy. Not every city can support extensive retail; overbuilding in some categories and areas has contributed to today’s economic woes in the retail sector. However, many areas are still significantly underretailed and opportunities exist for both savvy cities and smart retailers.

Since fewer retailers are moving in this challenging environment, competition for those new projects and locations is fierce. How can a city help get its name on the expansion list? Here are some tips we’ve found to be effective as we help cities recruit new businesses:

  1. Believe in and utilize public/private partnerships. Cities can assemble land, provide needed public infrastructure and ensue the development process is as pain-free and efficient as possible. Now is the time for innovate approaches to incentives and improving internal processes.
  2. Know your city/sites well, from a development perspective. What would make them attractive (or not) to a particular retailer? Does the site fit the retailer’s criteria?
  3. Get your demographic house in order. Using the numbers from the last census is NOT providing current, actionable information for the site selection process. Numbers generated via internal studies (not independently verifiable) are also not helpful. Use a reputable source for solid demographics based on a reasonable trade area.
  4. Understand the development process from the development side. Knowing how to work with site selectors, brokers, developers, leasing agents and retailers is crucial to ensure a smooth process and positive outcome.
  5. Craft a marketing position and use it. If your city logo/motto reflects 150 years of history but not where you’re headed, or what new residents or businesses can expect in the future, you’ve missed an opportunity to shine. If your city web site looks like an internal project, you’ve missed another one. Cities selling themselves need the same tools as other companies with products to sell… good logo, solid identity, good product information, great marketing vehicles to share it all.
  6. Own your own economic development efforts. Chambers of Commerce, industrial development authorities, and other quasi-governmental bodies cannot “pull the trigger” on projects, yet the decision-making process and the ability to get things done in a consistent manner is an integral part of economic growth and development.

It’s not easy to get noticed by national retailers and other site selectors, but using these tips will help your community put its best foot forward and increase the chances you’ll get a shot at new business expansions or developments.

Rickey Hayes is the principal of Retail Attractions, LLC, a firm dedicated to helping cities and developers successfully find retail sites, close deals and improve the quality of life for our client cities.Mandy Vavrinak is the principal of Crossroads Communications, LLC, a firm dedicated to effectively marketing places and spaces and specializing in working with retailers and cities. They’ve successfully partnered on a number of projects, attracting more than 6 million square feet of retail to the right locations over the past 6 years.

Building and maintaining public/private/partnerships in economic development

Written by
Rickey Hayes
Retail Attractions, LLC

One of the key components in economic development for small cities is the development of public/private partnerships.  The growth of any locality depends on the vision of those in leadership. It takes vision and courage to take the lead in regards to growth and development issues. For any kind of sustained growth to occur, an environment must be created that fosters and encourages growth. City governments must take the lead in crafting policy and creating an overall attitude among staff at all levels that economic development is key to survival and growth. For any kind of retail development or job creation in a city, the central governmental entity in that location has to have the lead. Chambers of Commerce, industrial development authorities, and other quasi-governmental bodies cannot “pull the trigger” on projects. This decision making process and the ability to get things done in a consistent manner is an integral part of economic growth and development. A growing number of municipalities have discovered that being in the driver’s seat in economic development issues brings multiple benefits to the overall economic health of the city. Educating the local business community, staff and elected officials has to be done on a grassroots level. The development of marketing material is crucial to “brand” the city and communicate the city’s desire and ability to grow.

This is especially true in areas where there has been a marked decline in manufacturing or industrial development. Cities must be at work to generate and stimulate momentum in the local economy. In recent years, city governments have realized that retail development is one sure way to stimulate the local economy. Even in smaller communities, incentives can be used to attract national retailers. City governments are realizing that the same incentive strategies that are used to attract manufacturing and industrial uses can be utilized to create an environment for retail investment. Retailers are attracted to anything that can increase their bottom line. City government can make retail investment opportunities attractive by assembling land, providing needed public infrastructure and by making the overall development process as pain free as possible. This arrangement also allows the city to control or at least strongly influence the style and quality of the projects. A well designed and executed project can enhance the value of a community for years to come.

Rickey Hayes is the principal of Retail Attractions, LLC, a firm dedicated to helping cities and developers successfully find retail sites, close deals and improve the quality of life for our client cities.