It's all in the numbers
When it comes to attracting new retail stores to any community, it is not what people want that matters. It is what people can afford. In short, it is all about the numbers.
Often we receive comments from people criticizing the city for “bringing in” another drug store or Mexican restaurant. Those misinformed readers somehow think the city decides what type of stores or restaurants come into town and only allows those. And, some of the suggestions as to what should be “brought into town” are almost laughable. Nordstroms, Macy’s, Fresh and Easy, Tahoe Joes and others have been suggested, but right now the chance of those coming to Porterville are slim and it is because of the numbers.
Businesses such as restaurants and large retail stores look at those numbers very closely and often. What they see when they look at Porterville is a nice community with not a lot of “spendable” income, money to spend on things like nice restaurants or fancy retail stores.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, roughly 60% of the households in town earn less than $50,000 a year. That is approximately 9,000 of the 16,068 households in Porterville as of 2010. The median household income 2007-2011 averaged $39,933 in Porterville. Only slightly more than half of the residents live in a home they own. Nearly 3,000 of households pay more than 35% of their income on rent alone.
In Visalia, that median household income was $54,019 and for all of California it was $61,632.
Those numbers for Porterville do not attract a lot of companies, especially the big retailers. That is why we have seen so many dollar stores pop up.
Visalia was lucky to get a Macy’s a few years ago. The store took advantage of Gottschalk’s going out and leaving behind a store that was really a good fit for the retailer, but it took a lot of coaxing by the city to land Macy’s, a store that usually likes a slightly larger city with a little higher income.
Visalia has been able to land a few more stores and restaurants and any one will tell you it is because of both the population and the income level of that city that attracts those businesses.
This is not to say Porterville leaders do not try to lure retailers and restaurants. That is one reason the city sends people to Las Vegas to meet with developers and companies who might consider a location here, but those efforts may take years to see results. Companies plan long range and don’t build a store on a whim.
However, cities focus more on trying to attract industries to town than retail outlets. The theory is industrial jobs create income and that will in-turn draw retail stores.
With the new courthouse on the way, Porterville will be in a better position to lure more stores and probably a few new restaurants, but don’t expect any high-end operations. Even with the jobs the courthouse will bring, the median income will not rise significantly right away.
The point is, city officials would love to have as many nice retail stores as possible. Those stores generate sales tax income for the city and that income allows the city to pay its bills.
But, officials are realistic and approach those that are more likely a good fit for Porterville than those who are still year’s away when the numbers are more attractive.
Rick Elkins is editor of the Porterville Recorder. He can be reached at 784-5000, ext. 1040, or by e-mail at email@example.com. You can also follow him on Twitter.