Franklin — A new business report released by Milwaukee County documents what residents already know: Franklin needs more retail.
Esri, a data analysis company commissioned by the county, recently published a retail marketplace profile for Franklin that subsequently presented to city officials this month.
The retail report identifies "leakage" points — areas where residents are spending their money outside of the community — and the findings are startling, said Economic Development Commission Chairman Craig Haskins, who presented the report to the Franklin Common Council.
"Almost every sort of (retail) category is lacking in Franklin," Haskins said. "According to the report, Franklin residents are underserved and often have to leave Franklin for their purchases."
The reports lists certain store categories and identifies what the residential demand is, how much the city is able to meet that demand, and what percentage of that local demand is met by other communities.
Franklin residents spent about $80.9 million on motor vehicle and parts dealers in 2013 — but only $60.6 million of that demand was met by stores in Franklin; that's about $20.3 million the city lost to other retail markets.
The retail gaps were also evident in furniture stores, electronics stores, restaurants, and clothing stores. Of the 13 broad categories identified, Franklin had retail gaps in 11 of them. On average, the report found that the city lost about $85.5 million in potential sales from retail trade and food and drink businesses in 2013.
Residents just didn't have enough options to keep their money in Franklin, Haskins said.
Considering a strategy
But it's data like this that can help the city create a strategy.
"There's so much potential for businesses to serve these consumer needs," he said. "... We can't just call a company and say, 'Come to Franklin.' The businesses need data like this. When you have information you can give to companies, it helps lay the groundwork."
Development in Franklin has been a regular point of discussion for the common council in recent months. With the rejection of a TIF district for a baseball stadium at The Rock Sports Complex and a split-vote that killed a $38,000 update to the city's economic development plan, city officials are looking at options to meet its 70-30 tax base ratio goal.
Prior to Haskin's report presentation, aldermen met to discuss two potential companies designed to help communities develop their economy.
Buxton Company, headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas, aims to help communities "think like a retailer," Kim Honzell, director of sales, told the council.
Buxton has partnered with more than 670 communities to build upon empty retail spaces for the past 12 years, she said.
The company uses massive amounts of data — collected from the spending habits and interests of community residents — to develop an in-depth analysis of the local business market. The data helps to identify what residents' specific retail demands are and to use those demands to attract suitable businesses.
The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, established in 2011 after Governor Scott Walker advocated a replacement for the Wisconsin Department of Commerce, also pitched its services.
"Our job is to do outreach to communities, coordinate technical and financial assistance to communities, and ... serve as liaisons to state agencies and programs," said Community Account Manager Kathryn Berger.
WEDC offers a variety of programs, including help applying for grants and tax credits, to assist communities in improving their economy.
No recommendation was made by the council regarding the two companies, but aldermen expressed interest in the amount of information provided.
"I thought there was a lot of valuable information," said alderwoman Kristen Wilhelm, who initially reached out to the two companies, after the meeting. "There are a lot of different programs to look at and we'll just see if there's any encouragement to pursue either one from the council.
"We'll continue to discuss what makes the most sense for the city."
Call for action
Local business owners and developers attended the Committee of the Whole meeting, including Mike Zimmerman, owner of The Rock Sports Complex and Zimmerman Ventures.
Since the committee's decision to turn down The Rock's stadium proposal, "I hear no strategy, no movement," Zimmerman said. "At what point is (the common council) going to say 'This is our strategy and this is what we're going to do in terms of retail?'"
Former Franklin mayors Fred Klimetz and Tom Taylor, who also attended, spoke in support of pursuing more retail in Franklin during the Common Council meeting.
"Don't close the door, look at everything," Taylor said. "Yes, a business park is needed ... but you also have to bring in the retail. You have to do everything to try and keep down the price of the taxes."
After the meeting, Olson said he supported retail as well as business park development.
"I think retail is important for the quality of life of our citizens," Olson said. "We have many issues to work through for retail — but we'll work through them."
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