Local officials have gotten used to answering the question over the years about why LaGrange doesn’t have a Target or some other well-known retail stores, but the truth is, the lack of such shopping is holding the city back.
The LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce is trying to fix that, deciding to partner with Birmingham-based Retail Strategies to market the area to potential businesses.
“If they want to come here, first they have to find out about LaGrange,” said LaGrange Mayor Jeff Lukken.
The expected residential and retail growth that was expected after Kia Motors’ opening in West Point hasn’t materialized and local leaders are stuck: they can’t get the retail without rooftops and can’t get rooftops without retail.
The city and the chamber have looked at hiring someone to collect the data needed to study LaGrange’s retail prospects, but that could get expensive, Lukken said. Before such a person could begin the work, they’d have to be trained for it, which would take time and money.
“The race is on for us to get the lion’s share of the retail,” Lukken said. The city – and chamber – want to move on recruiting before too many businesses locate in nearby cities and choose not to move here for that reason.
Chamber President Page Estes said she met the Birmingham firm two years ago at a retail convention in Las Vegas and has been impressed with their work. The chamber executive board agreed to hire the firm for a three-year contract, costing a total of about $90,000. The chamber will pay 40 percent of the cost and is asking LaGrange, West Point and Hogansville city governments, along with Troup County commissioners, to each fund a portion of the rest.
LaGrange City Council agreed Tuesday to fund their portion, about $12,500.
“It’s a good investment,” City Manager Tom Hall said.
The city also approved the spending plan for the chamber’s tourism arm, which it is required to do every year since tourism is funded with local hotel-motel taxes. The chamber expects about $412,000 in expenses in the coming year, including the Bassmaster Elite Series Tournament. To land the tournament, the chamber has to pay a $60,000 event fee and put on a festival during the tournament that should cost almost as much as the fee.
Tourism director Laura Jennings already is fundraising to raise the money for the fee and the festival, which would offset what the chamber winds up spending.
Jennings also reported the tourism group’s recent accomplishments to the council in her annual presentation on Tuesday, including:
• Two movies have been shot in Troup County in the last year, including “The Wettest County in the World” and “Jayne Mansfield’s Car.” A third movie is likely to shoot in the vacated West Side Magnet School, Jennings said.
• The county was ranked No. 22 out of Georgia’s 159 counties for tourism spending, according to state figures, she said. More than $140 million was spent by tourists here in 2011, up 5.7 percent from 2010. Their expenses created $3.9 million in local tax revenue.