The Conyers Rockdale Economic Development aims to attract more name-brand and higher-end retail stores to the area, and decided at its June 10 meeting to form a subcommittee on the issue.
Besides offering advice to retailers, CREDC's goal involves attracting more white-collar jobs to provide a customer base, and working with county and city planners to establish attractive retail centers.
CREDC Executive Director Marty Jones said residents frequently ask him about retail development.
"My wife is number one on asking me [about attracting] who she'd like to have in the community," Jones joked. While some of that work is more suited to the Chamber of Commerce, he said, CREDC likely needs to increase its role. Much of its recent activity has involved commercial and industrial developments.
"Maybe we need to punch up retail more on the website at a minimum," Jones said.
"Development follows demographics," noted CREDC board member Gerald Rakestraw. "It requires a philosophy change to not chase the smokestack," he added, meaning putting an emphasis on drawing professional jobs rather than mostly industrial ones. When it comes to attracting retail in competition with some other metro Atlanta communities, he said, "We lack population. We lack income."
"We need an attractive retail commercial complex. We don't have that in our county," added board member Mike Houchard.
Board member Pat Cavanaugh, the publisher of the News, noted that it's important for economic development and planning goals to match. He said Newton County made various zoning changes in the hopes of attracting restaurants, but ended up with used car places instead. And simply welcoming in typical fast-food chains isn't as much of a boost, he added.
"I think that's the concern here... I think we're bigger than that," Cavanaugh said, adding that any kind of retail is good, "but how many Dollar General stores can you have?"
County planning director Marshall Walker and his City of Conyers counterpart, Marvin Flanigan, were both in attendance. Both said they look forward to working more closely with CREDC, adding that it has not happened in the past.
"That's always a pet peeve of mine," Flanigan said. "There's been a disconnect for years. We've never talked on a consistent basis."
"I'll echo that," said Walker. "We like being involved. It's not a waste of time for us to be here at all."
Jones said he'll meet with both officials soon.