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Ottawa council considering 3-year service to attract retailers

City losing $27 million in home repair sales

The city of Ottawa is considering getting some help from a retail recruitment company to attract new business.

Economic Development Director Dave Noble updated the City Council on a proposal from Buxton that would see the company compile data analytics and marketing data to attract retail spaces.

Buxton would analyze what people in town are looking to purchase as well as calculate a demand and assess the spending interests of those traveling on Interstate 80 as well as the millions visiting Starved Rock State Park.

Commissioner Tom Ganiere also added it could help lessen the $27 million the city loses annually in home improvement supplies, according to a prior assessment.

"That's got to be enough to attract someone here I would think," Ganiere said.

Noble said the company can create a radius around the city, ping all the cellphones, and get information regarding those traveling in the area and what they purchase and then create a packet and set of guidelines to reach out to retailers. The business also acts as a representative for businesses to help find locations.

"So it's kind of like marrying both our search ability with their supply ability to do that," Noble said.

They also provide information for local businesses to let them know what is best to keep on shelves that people are looking to buy as well as advertise the city on the phones of those visiting the area, such as tourists to Starved Rock.

The proposal is for $50,000 a year, for three years, but the City Council could back out at the end of a year.

If it sounds similar, the City Council previously did business with Retail Coach in a similar capacity. Noble said they received a few leads but not much else.

Commissioner Wayne Eichelkraut said he voted against Retail Coach and Ganiere also noted Buxton had a better package.

Mayor Dan Aussem questioned whether the work they would be paying Buxton for was already being done by other retailers such as Lowe's, Menards and Home Depot.

"They've got someone doing all that tracking to say where's the next place to be putting a store. What (Buxton) is telling us we should do and give to them, I would almost bet those stores are doing that on their own," Aussem said. "They only think you might have is if you meet their criteria and they missed it, but they're going to know where the best place is to put another store."

"I understand what you're saying, people should be looking for us but sometimes you got to put yourself out there," Eichelkraut added.

Ganiere said he sees the partnership as similar to North Central Illinois Development only focused on retail rather than industrial.

The business is also being utilized by the city of Peru and Aussem said he would reach out to Peru Mayor Scott Harl for more information.

Noble said he still has some additional questions to ask the company including how much time is required on the city's behalf. Three to four emails and possibly phone calls would need to be sent out a day, adding up to a potential of two hours a day a year for it to work.

He also questioned whether retail is out there to capture with many chains closing stores nationwide.

"You rattle them off, stores are being closed. Big boxes are going away. Are we barking up a tree that's impossible and retail is gone? The retail we know, that we have in our minds, is a thing of the past?" Noble asked the company.

He said they also take into account online sales to show potential retails and shared a report about the future of retail.

"Though the report quite frankly said a lot of them are in the hot suburb area where there's money, that's what I got out of it, then there are in rural areas. But there's still stuff out there," Noble said.

Eichelkraut said it's worth researching more to discover what other retail the city could capitalize on that's being lost elsewhere.

"I think there's some things that can be brought to Ottawa that we actually do need that I don't feel like traveling for if I don't have to," Eichelkraut said. "We've used (Tax Increment Financing District) money before for worse things and if we decided after a year we're done, we're done."

The City Council will hear a proposal from the company at a future meeting.

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