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Sat, Aug. 17

Despite some setbacks, economic development group moves forward with area retail analysis

KINGMAN - It hasn't been an easy inaugural year for the Economic Development and Marketing Commission. Since its official formation last fall, the 11-member commission has been beset by funding setbacks, resignations and most recently, a difficulty even managing a quorum at its monthly meetings.

But despite a tough first year, the commission's remaining seven members are still dedicated to building business into Kingman, and they've never stopped working on developing ideas to do so, according to the commission's chairman, John Kirby.

Originally formed as an ad-hoc marketing workgroup, the EDMC became an official city-sanctioned commission in September of 2009, inheriting the economic development responsibilities previously assumed by the Economic Tourism and Development Commission, which was itself later renamed the Tourism Development Commission in early 2010.

Since then, the EDMC's members have worked to establish a number of economic development workshops, as well as a consistent Shop Local campaign to help retain businesses already in the area. The commission also received a grant from the University of Arizona to help pay for the development of a community needs survey, which is currently generating data to determine exactly which kinds of businesses best fit the area's needs and wants, as well as its demographic and income limitations.

Yet despite those initial good works, the commission failed to receive the $84,000 in funding it had requested from the Kingman City Council during the budgeting process for the 2010-2011 fiscal year. Instead, the Tourism Development Commission agreed to donate $38,500 in seed money.

The move was seen as a slap in the face by then-EDMC chair Christine Cerny, who argued that Council had an obligation to fund the new commission after committing to its creation. She resigned in protest at the commission's May 7 meeting, leaving vice-chair Kirby to take up the reins.

Shortly thereafter, the commission was hit with several more resignations when Mohave County Economic Development Director Jonas Peterson and Frontier Communications Operations Manager Lynne Petersen left for California and Texas, respectively, dropping the EDMC membership to eight. A fourth commission member, Mike Dellar of the Learning Center for Human Development, also stopped attending meetings several months ago, initially due to a "family emergency," though Dellar eventually dropped off the radar completely, according to Kirby.

"Some months ago, he informed me that he was going to be out of town for a few months and those were excused absences," Kirby said. "But now, the last couple of months I would consider unexcused as I have tried to contact him and have been unsuccessful and have not received a phone call back."

For these reasons, the EDMC was unable to muster enough members to meet during April and August, and the July meeting was simply cancelled outright due to similar concerns regarding the July Fourth holiday. In a way, Kirby said, the commission has been a victim of its own ambitious agenda, since the 11-person membership was originally chosen so that members would be able to break up into subcommittees to tackle numerous issues at once.

"What happened was, because of open meeting laws, we needed to agendize all of our meetings and produce minutes and action items and all the things that go along with open meetings laws, and we were taxing the city's already overstretched resources," he said. "We had spun off four or five subcommittees right away, and it just overwhelmed them."

Their difficulty meeting prompted Kirby to turn to Council on Monday to discuss the possibility of reducing the commission's membership to 7 or 9 members, which he argued would make it easier for the commission to get back to business. And despite its setbacks, the EDMC is still very much in business.

"What we're working on now is spending some money on a retail gap analysis," Kirby said. "That's a survey where a company will come in and assess where there are deficits in our retail sector. Say we go after a shoe store and that analysis says Kingman is spending $1 million a year on sneakers, but our stores are only seeing $500,000."

In that case, Kirby said, Kingman can use the analysis to show other shoe stores the direct monetary benefit they could expect to reap by relocating to Kingman.

"So instead of waiting for a lead, you go on the offensive and say, 'Hey look, a city like ours would definitely support another store like yours,'" he said.

The EDMC is also working on creating a new economic website that will link directly from the city's homepage. Dubbed "Arizona Crossroads," the new site would feature up-to-date economic development data such as demographics, average income, climate and population statistics, all tailored to cater to individual businesses' selection criteria analysts.

"We'll have all the pertinent ED data, similar to what you've got out there on the Kingman Airport Authority website," Kirby said. "It's actually in beta testing right now."

Kirby said the commission is also working to produce new marketing collateral for the city, such as brochures and other handouts that can be circulated at industry events like the International Council of Shopping Centers annual conference, which was held in Las Vegas three months ago.

"We want to have some nice flashy brochures and some flashy handouts to show off when somebody calls looking for information," Kirby said. "While it would have been nice to do the millions of things we had in mind, we are going to focus on the areas where we can really make progress and achieve our goals."

Council is likely to take up the formal ordinance reducing the EDMC membership at its next meeting Sept. 7. For those interested in attending EDMC meetings, the commission usually meets at 8 a.m. every first Friday of the month in the Council Chambers at 310 N. Fourth St., however, the next meeting is scheduled for Sept. 10.

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