City, Port look at possibilities


WALLA WALLA - A company that analyzes retail markets and customer analytics wants to add Walla Walla as a client.

"Buxton" is a Texas-based company that compiles and analyzes consumer spending data, which can be used by municipalities as a tool for economic development.

A representative of the company will be at Monday's Walla Walla City Council work session to provide a presentation to the community. The work session begins at 4 p.m. at City Hall, 15 N. Third Ave.

Walla Walla City Manager Nabiel Shawa said he worked with Buxton when he was city manager in Washougal, Wash. The firm, he said, "drills down a community's information to the household level" and from that can determine possible gaps in retail offerings. The report can be used to help focus economic development recruitment efforts, which was designated as one of the top goals for the city this year.

"It really is a powerful tool," Shawa said. "Even if I had three people working full-time on this I couldn't replicate" the amount of data collected from Buxton.

Shawa said the cost of such analysis is about $35,000 and has a shelf life of probably 36 months. He said having the results doesn't necessarily guarantee success, but it helps to target recruitment efforts.

The survey is one possibility for fostering retail development. Shawa said he plans to also focus this year on identifying properties throughout the city that would be ideal for new commercial development. The hope is to work with the private sector to make sure zoning is correct and infrastructure is in place and create an inventory of properties that would be ready for development if a retailer wanted to build.

"As the economy turns, we want to be prepared," he said.

Also adding some effort to the community's retail picture is the Port of Walla Walla. The Port, the community's lead economic development agency, has traditionally focused its recruitment efforts on manufacturing, which is more likely to bring family-wage jobs to the community than retail.

However, given the destruction of the Blue Mountain Mall property and requests from businesses for the Port to consider assisting with retail development as part of its overall strategy, the agency will attend the International Council of Shopping Centers annual trade show at the end of May.

Port Executive Director Jim Kuntz said the cities of Walla Walla and College Place will also be represented at the trip, which is intended to target retail investment in the Walla Walla Valley.


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