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Promotion aims to lessen leakage of retail sales in Newton County
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The demand for car parts, furniture, electronics, clothing, appliances, sporting goods, books and music, as well as other retail goods, is not being completely met in Newton County.

Research compiled by Georgia Power shows that, while more than $833 million is being spent at retail stores and restaurants in the county, businesses are losing over $40 million to neighboring counties.

That information is used by Serra Phillips Hall, Director of Commercial Development for the Covington-Newton Economic Development Office, to market the county to potential retail stores and businesses.

“We can track [by zip code] that our dollars are not being spent in Newton County,” she said. “Our community doesn’t want leakage. We want the amount [spent outside the county] to diminish.”

Though no community has zero leakage, she said, “we are working to reduce our leakage footprint by at least half. Half would be monumental.”

When the Walmart Super Center off Industrial Boulevard in Covington opened, it reduced the county’s retail leakage by $3 to $4 million, she said. “Any big box store would reduce the leakage by over a million.

“To reduce leakage, we’re going to need to work on the larger complexes with multiple big box stores,” she said. “It will take a larger complex, multiple big box stores and other stores coming into our community.”

As retail businesses have opened, county residents have supported them by shopping locally. For example, she said, the recently opened Your Pie drew an eager crowd of patrons, which, in turn, made a dent in the retail dollars leaking out of the country.

“The growth we’re seeing with restaurants, or when someone like Sweet River expands their [retail] footprint, offers more opportunities for customers,” she said. These retail stores are capturing a “market that may be leaving our community but are now staying local.”

Armed with figures indicating the amount of money being spent elsewhere that could be spent in Newton County, Hall attends trade shows like the recent International Council of Shopping Centers conference in Charlotte, North Carolina, earlier this year. She also shares with potential retail businesses the generous incentive package offered by the City of Covington.

“They’ll help with initial startup costs in utilities and permitting fees,” she said. “It’s one of the only cities in the state of Georgia to offer small business incentives and it’s been very successful.”

The trade shows have proven effective.

“We had a few retailers who responded from last year’s trade shows,” she said. “Those businesses are up and running.”
As part of her presentation to potential retail stores or developers, she shares that Newton County’s median income is $52,000. Of that, she said, “$38,000 is disposal [and] can include groceries. In our disposal income, we’re over the state average, and over the state average for median and household income. Our unemployment rate is about 6.3 percent right now.”

Combined with the amount of money being spent elsewhere that could be spent at stores and restaurants in Newton County, Hall said she shares the data with businesses looking to expand their retail space or to attract a new retailer to the county.

One of the retail franchises to take advantage of the potential in the county is Ross Dress for Less, which opened a store in Covington last year. “Ross is doing fantastic,” she said. “They are very excited about doing business in Newton County. They’ve had trouble getting their inventory in line because we’re purchasing so much from them.

“People here are hungry for stores here to shop at,” she said. “I can’t tell you how often I hear, ‘I’m tired to driving to our neighboring counties or Atlanta or Athens to shop,’ because they want to support the tax base here instead of giving it to someone else.

“Newton County and Covington has a real sense of loyalty to shop here,” she said. “You see that with new businesses opening, small or large. They are supported and they become very much a part of the community.”

Hall said she is available to talk to anyone who might be interested in starting or expanding a business or opening a franchise in Newton County. To learn more about retail opportunities, contact her at (770) 786-7510 or