By KEELEY MOREE
• Leader & Times
The Liberal City Commission gave the City of Liberal’s economic development team the green light Tuesday evening to proceed in negotiations with Retail Attractions, a consultant company which works to bring retail business to communities.
Economic Development Director Jeff Parsons explained that bringing retail business to Liberal is a big part of the economic development objectives he leads.
“These businesses provide lots of jobs, they provide quality of life for the people who already live here and not to mention, they also generate sales tax that we use for the city,” Parsons said. “Last year, the sales tax generated over $4 million dollars.”
Parsons went on to explain that hiring Rickey Hayes, president of Retail Attractions, is a move he hopes will increase the efficiency and effectiveness of Liberal’s economic development initiatives.
“It’s a firm whose job, basically, is connecting retail companies with communities,” Parsons said. “Mr. Hayes was an economic development director in the Tulsa region for a number of years and due to his proximity to Tulsa, growth came to his town and he was an integral part of helping develop that retail economy that grew in his community. He oversaw the addition of four and a half million feet of retail space into his town.”
Parsons said he has met with Hayes on a few occasions since November and that he believes his track record and connections would bring benefit to Liberal’s retail recruiting efforts.
“There’s a couple of significant reasons why I think we should consider hiring this firm. First is his experience and expertise. He’s been doing this for a number of years. He’s been a major part in putting many, many deals together. He’s worked those from beginning to end,” Parsons explained. “The second thing is, basically, for lack of a better word, his rolodex. He has literally thousands of connections within the retail economy from retail companies to developers to site selection people and attorneys, bankers, engineers. He has a tremendous rolodex of contacts.”
Part of Hayes’ work would involve a market analysis and leakage study to determine Liberal’s demographics, advantages and opportunities for improvement. From there, Hayes would be involved in taking his findings to retail businesses and developers to recruit.
“He’s been here twice to look around and visit with folks. He said there are some hurdles that we will face in our recruiting, and we face that every day,” Parsons explained. “We’re a rural area, and we have a limited population. But we have some things going for us – we have a provable draw, a retail draw that exceeds our population. We have good developable land that is near other retail areas where there’s space to build. We have great traffic patterns, according to Rickey.”
Parsons added that recruiting retail is not a “speedy process” but that hiring Retail Attractions will act as a catalyst for future growth.
“We’ve done some things to help retailers out. Our CID for instance is a good finance tool that we have to offer,” Parsons stated. “We’ve done things where we’re looking right now to finalize a TIFF policy to help developers. We’ve got a lot of things going for us. The hiring of Retail Attractions, basically, will speed up the process involved with recruiting retail for Liberal.”
Parsons said he needed permission from commissioners to continue his talks with Hayes, and that he hoped to bring him to Liberal in March for a full presentation and vote on possibly hiring Retail Attractions.
“Have you discussed this with the Economic Development Board?” commissioner Larry Koochel asked.
Parsons said that he had not.
“I would think that that would be one step that we ought to do because it’s going to take all of the people that we can get on board to make this work if we decide to do it,” Koochel replied.
“I agree,” Parsons said. “We thought it was best to talk to you before we talked to outside folks first.”
“I think what Jeff was asking for was just permission to pursue that, and I think he probably will approach the Economic Development Board,” commissioner Dave Harrison clarified.
“Oh yeah, no question about it,” Parsons responded.
“In the Economic Development Board meetings that I have been to, they never were really supportive of retail – it was focused on industry, but I think it would be beneficial to the commission and to Jeff if they’re kept up on this as we go along,” Koochel added.
Harrison then explained that input from the public and various boards could be received during a presentation by Hayes in March.
“The one thing that I hear over the last several years is people want the community to grow, they want this, they want that,” vice-mayor Joe Denoyer said. “I think that we need to think outside the box and look at some new and creative ways.”
“People seem to worry about why Garden and Dodge are getting things that we’re not getting and Jeff, correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe (Hayes) has signed an agreement with some folks in Dodge City to do this very thing,” Harrison said.
Denoyer asked if Hayes has been working with the Enid, Okla., community.
“He is,” Parsons confirmed. “He’s worked with them for a number of years.”
With that, commissioners gave a unanimous vote to allow Liberal’s Economic Development department to pursue negotiations with Rickey Hayes of Retail Attractions. Commissioner Janet Willimon wrapped up the conversation with her thoughts on the matter.
“I’m going to steal this line – ‘Having the assistance of a consultant with the right connections will increase both the pace of the process and a chance of successful outcomes,’” Willimon read, before stating that, “I would like to think that I’m a part of a commission that is all about the growth of Liberal, Kansas. As fast of a pace as we can possibly grow, I’m on board for that. Go for it.”
If approved, Retail Attractions will be paid a one-time charge of $3,500 dollars for a market analysis and leakage study – in addition to a $1,500 dollar monthly consultation fee. The first year cost of hiring the company totals $21,500 dollars.
Parsons explained that if the City of Liberal wishes to continue their work with Hayes after the first year, a lower monthly cost would be paid.