NEWPORT—Finance Committee members recently heard from Robb Miller, Vice President of Sales with Buxton, a data analytics company that focuses on retail recruitment across the country.

Miller said Buxton was founded by retailers, for retailers. He said the retail game has changed over the years due to the use of technology.

“Retails not dying, retailers are just getting smarter,” Miller said.

“We get retailers to think about customers. You can have the best piece of real estate in the nation, but if your customers aren’t in close proximity then you’re not going to be successful.”

Buxton uses massive amounts of data to look at how customers spend their money. They look at why consumers choose one brand or company over another, which is used to recruit specific businesses.

Over the past 12 months Buxton has reviewed 80,000 sites. Of those sites, 7,500 locations had stores open as a direct result of Buxton’s services.

Miller said the market is very competitive with retailers narrowing their lists to around 11 locations before choosing one.

He said the goal is always to make the list of the top 10 to 15 locations.

“Often times you’re never going to know they are looking. It’s really important to get on that list of 10 to 15 sites that retailer is going to look at, and then do everything possible to position yourself to be that one site. That’s where my company comes into play.”

Miller said he builds a playbook for retailers, which he will put in the hands of communities. He hopes to remove the speculation aspect and help each city or county select the right retailer for a specific site.

Buxton has worked successfully with Kingsport, Sevierville, and Unicoi County, which signed on with the company in early 2019.

The company takes a two pronged approach to economic development. They track new retail, but also support the businesses that are already in a community.

Chairman Forest Clevenger asked what the costs are associated with Buxton’s services.

Miller said they are based on a three year period with the first year’s charges being $65,000, and $50,000 for each subsequent year.

A county is not locked into a multi-year agreement. To opt out the municipality can contact the agency 60 days before a new year starts.

“Retail takes time, and it’s not something that happens overnight,” Miller said.

“Our most successful clients are the ones that have that long term outlook. You should expect to get very good conversations at the six to eight month mark of the partnership.”

Clevenger said that the only way he would consider Buxton’s services is if the City of Newport partnered on the project.

He said the majority of sales tax dollars are taken in by the city.

“I’d hate to be the one paying the whole bill, and the city reap the benefits,” Clevenger said.

Partnership President Lucas Graham said it would be expensive for the county to invest in this service, but landing one large retailer would completely offset the high price tag.

“In general one or two success off any of our exits would more than double the investment in the additional sales tax alone,” Graham said.

“All it takes is one success for this to be a net zero.”

Commissioner Clay Blazer agreed that Buxton’s services would be expensive, but he said that not using this type of service could be just as costly to the county.

“It seems to me that if we don’t go with a company like this then we won’t get any attention from retailers,” Blazer said.

“It’s not like Lucas (Graham) has 25 people working on his team. Retailers aren’t working the way they did 25 years ago. Communities that are associated with companies like this have restaurants and retail spaces going up. The ones that aren’t connected with a company like this are sitting there with nothing.

“I’m afraid if we don’t do it then we won’t get anything.”

Committee members agreed that the price would be too much for the county alone, so they are asking for the city to join in the business venture.

They will discuss the matter further once they have an answer from the city.

The committee agreed to support the Sheriff’s Department in its efforts to acquire new equipment for School Resource Officers.

Gov. Bill Lee provided money to multiple counties including Cocke, to fill vacant SRO positions in schools.

The county currently has 7 schools without full time SRO’s. Those positions will be filled in the coming months.

Sheriff Armando Fontes said his department could handle most of the equipment costs for the new officers, but asked the committee for $9,000 to cover the extra expenditures. The committee gave their support, and the matter will be discussed by the full legislative body.

The full CLB will meet on Monday, Aug. 19 at 6 p.m.

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