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EDC says marketing study not worthwhile

An $18,000 marketing study conducted for Jackson County by consultants from Texas fell short of what the firm promised, according to members of the Jackson County Economic Development Commission.

So the economic development commission is asking for its money back.

“It was a very canned report,” said Chris Matheson, an attorney on the EDC board. “It looks like you could probably substitute the name of any number of communities for the name of ours.”

The consulting firm analyzes a community’s demographics and determines what businesses would be a good fit for the community. The results? Applebee’s, Dairy Queen, Belk’s, Hallmark store, Sally’s Beauty Supply, Jo-Ann Fabrics, Hibbet Sporting Goods, Staples, Target and Tractor Supply.

Rick Fulton, the chairman of the EDC, said the group wasn’t impressed and doesn’t agree with the results. Fulton isn’t sure how much luck Jackson County would have recruiting some of the businesses Buxton recommends, such as the Belk’s for example. Fulton said consultants can be convincing when giving their pitch, but don’t always deliver.

The consultants pitched their services to the EDC in fall of 2005. They said they would analyze the county’s demographics “utilizing a variety of parameters.” Buxton used words like “psychographics”, claiming they analyze the lifestyle characteristics of the community to determine what businesses the population could support but was currently lacking.

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The first report the EDC got from Buxton did not describe how it arrived at the results — namely the parameters it used to characterize the community’s shopping proclivities. So the EDC asked for more information in a follow-up report. The follow-up report included five simple data sets Buxton used in its analysis: population, number of households, average income, average housing cost, and traffic counts.

“I feel like the information was something any first grader could have pulled off the Internet,” Fulton said.

The EDC questioned the way Buxton characterized the community. (see “What Sylva is and isn’t”)

“Some of the information we really and truly disagreed with,” Matheson said. “We felt like the demographic information wasn’t entirely correct. We aren’t sure they considered the influx of people from the university or from tourism.”

It also appears that second-home owners — the retired baby-boomers along with their six-figure retirement incomes — weren’t considered either. It’s a common problem for mountain counties. Resort communities and the second-home population don’t register on your basic census data, leaving gaping holes in market analysis that don’t find another way to factor that component in. Tourism doesn’t appear on the radar either. As a result, Buxton’s report was did not reflect the actual demographics of Jackson County, EDC members said.

“It was very generic,” Matheson said. “We felt very strongly they need to either supply us with something that was for us and about us, not just a community with our same population.

“If we had gotten what we were promised, it would have been a useful tool,” Matheson said. But “they feel far short of their commitment.”

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