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Market study provides new data tool for developers

SOUTH POINT - If real estate is all about location, economic development is all about data.

A new market study of Lawrence County may provide new data that economic developers can use to help market the area to would-be developers.

"Hopefully, this will help identify areas of retail growth potential," said Dominick Brook, a research analyst with Ohio University's Institute for Local Government Administration and Rural Development (ILGARD).

Brook and Christine Sheeran, a data and GIS specialist, presented findings of the market study last week to members of the county's chamber of commerce.

The study was prepared by ILGARD for the Lawrence Economic Development Corporation, a community improvement corporation that serves as the county's economic development engine.

The market study examined three specific areas of the county: Ironton, South Point and Proctorville.

In each area the study examined the socio-economic characteristics, performed a "gap analysis" to locate specific types of businesses that might be successful in each market and analyzed retail trends.

Since the area is interconnected with markets in other states, the study examined the populations within a 10-, 30- and 60-minutes drive from each of the communities.

Many county residents work in other area causing an outflow of people each day during normal business hours.

Most people might think that's inherently bad for the economy, but Brook said that might not be the case.

"This doesn't have to be a negative," he said. "(Commuters) have to drive through one of these areas each day. You might want to consider retail in Ironton and South Point that will capture those people going to work."

Although in some ways the study's results may seem to show things obvious to many residents - lots of people drive through the market each day, for example - having that quantified for people from out of town is critical, said Dr. Bill Dingus, executive director of the LEDC and the chamber.

"From a development standpoint this is the kind of information we can take to them an say, 'this looks like it's here,'" Dingus said. "We can use this to go back and say, 'this might be' to a potential developer."

Even small things in the study reveal opportunity, Dingus said.

The study revealed that in South Point a number of residents purchase money orders each month, but data shows those customers might be underserved.

"As the old retailer said, 'an extra 50 cents per customer means a lot. Do you know how much money I could make? It's a person's salary,'" Dingus said.

Retail trends in the county, according to the study, appear in step with many other areas of the country - continued growth in general merchandise stores, drug stores and building materials/hardware stores.

Interestingly, all three markets studied show potential for growth in adding a discount grocery store.

"I was surprised with the grocery stores being an opportunity," Dingus said.

In addition to grocery stores, the study suggested the possible establishment of family restaurants, music stores and drug stores in each of the three markets studied.

Eventually, Dingus said the details of the study may be available online.