City manager Ed Lowe reported briefly to the Oneonta City Council at its end-of-May meeting on the business recruiting conference he attended earlier that month. During May 17-20, Lowe joined more than 34,000 other attendees at the International Council of Shopping Centers’ RECon meeting in Las Vegas.
RECon bills itself as “the global convention for the shopping center industry” and asserts it “provides networking, deal making and educational opportunities for retail real estate professionals from around the world.” Lowe sat down last week with The Blount Countian to share some of his experiences at the conference.
Lowe reported he met with more than two dozen of the more than 1000 exhibitors at the trade show. While hesitant to speak of a few, he identified some in the interview, listing: Krystal, Wendy’s, Dairy Queen, Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, Arby’s, Denny’s, McAlister’s, Jimmy Johns, Bojangles, Pete’s Coffee, Firehouse Subs, Moe’s, Marco’s Pizza, Fred’s, Choice Hotels, Darden Industries (Olive Garden, Red Lobster, and Lonestar Steakhouse), and Drinkard Developers.
Lowe noted that Oneonta does not meet requirements some of the prospects hold for considering locating. In other cases, he found what the developers needed to add Oneonta to their potential lists. The manager held that merely obtaining business cards and contact information for some provided advantages he could not have secured from lengthy efforts in his office. RECon claims attendees can “do a year’s worth of business in just three days.”
“Every business there is looking for new locations,” Lowe explains. “I had made appointments with some before going. I did make cold calls on others. All were very cordial.”
Lowe evaluates Oneonta as “right on the bubble of positive growth.” He envisions possible announcements of coming businesses over the next several months. At the council meeting, Lowe had shared that his Auburn counterpart told him he estimated 75 percent of that city’s recent growth came from contacts initiated at previous RECon sessions.
Oneonta joined other Alabama communities in sponsoring a state reception for would-be investors. Lowe suggested between 15 and 20 other Alabama communities attended the meet which included educational sessions, as well.
In related matters, Lowe noted that five downtown buildings have sold in the past few months. Some of those are being gutted and totally renovated within the historic original walls. As at the council meeting, he spoke of the city’s B-3 zoning designation and the need to refine that further. The B-3 category provides for multiuse facilities combining retail and residential spaces such as loft apartments or other similar arrangements.
In pursuit of that refinement and in light of the city’s recent addition to the ACE (Alabama Communities of Excellence) program, Lowe notes the importance of public hearings. He praises those in the city who have been willing and able to offer their talents in economic development. He wants more to be participating. “The final product is no better than the input offered. The more public input [we have] the better our chances of being what we want,” he asserts.