Opinion: Hamilton needs to re-up with Retail Strategies

When the Hamilton City Council was working with a citizens group to produce increased local funding for Hamilton’s three public schools, then-Marion County Superintendent of Education Ryan Hollingsworth challenged the council in June to avoid the “paralysis of analysis” as the council continually pushed decisions down the road for more discussion.
While there is a healthy aspect of not rushing into a decision, there is a point where you’ve beaten the horse far too long. This is the case with the council’s decision whether or not to renew its contract with its economic development agency, Retail Strategies of Birmingham, which is now two months overdue as the council tabled the decision on Tuesday, Sept. 4, and plans to revisit the matter at its meeting on Monday, Sept. 17.
The Retail Strategies team has bent over backwards to provide information concerning its work for the city over the last year and make itself available to the council to answer any questions.
With the unusually quick recruitment of Jack’s Family Restaurants to Hamilton, there have been great questions asked by the council and legitimate concerns raised concerning the restaurant’s request for a 10-year, half-local sales tax abatement, which the city did not award the company. But they have been raised over, over and over again and Retail Strategies has gone above and beyond to assure the council that it was not an advocate of the proposed abatement.
Retail Strategies Chief Executive Officer Robert Jolly made a special appearance at the council’s Sept. 4 meeting to show the council his company’s interest in its partnership. He assured the council at the meeting that the agency is the city’s advocate and went as far as to say that he was glad that the abatement deal was not made as it meant the city benefitted more.
The council voted to enter its partnership with the agency in July 2017, agreeing to a three-year period. The council was given the option to review its contract annually and either vote to renew or retract without penalty. The agreement held that the city would pay $45,000 in year one and $40,000 for both subsequent years. It was made very clear that any fruit from the partnership should not be expected until after 18 months.
Not only has the agency done impressive groundwork and market analysis studies in the first year which the City of Hamilton will be able to use for years to come, but it also recruited Jack’s in just over 12 months—which is very rare for a retail recruitment deal.
With Jack’s now breaking ground for a new location across from the Hamilton Walmart Supercenter, the city is expected to generate $51,000 in local sales tax revenue—the Retail Strategies contract has already practically paid for itself.
The agency has an impressive tract record and for the last six years has had a partnership with the City of Jasper.  Considering the work that this group does to contact retailors, make connections and use its influence to represent municipalities, it is no wonder that there is a bloom of retail on Interstate 22’s Exit 65 in Jasper. Jolly noted on Sept. 4 that his agency was instrumental in locating both Jasper and New Albany, Miss., Cracker Barrel restaurants/stores.
We are under the impression that leaving this partnership is the wrong choice. It’s time to vote and it’s time to vote to renew the contract.

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