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County ripe for retail
Jim O'Bryan. - photo by Ross Blair

Are big retail chains coming soon to Bryan County? Jim O’Bryan, a retail commercial development specialist for Georgia EMC – who has studied the area – said they should be.

O’Bryan said it is time for Bryan County to start living up to its retail potential.

O’Bryan, who spoke to local officials Monday at Sunshine Breakfast to kick off Georgia Cities Week, said Bryan County’s well-above-average household income and traffic flow from I-95 make it an ideal location for big chains to stake their claim. He plans to work with the Bryan County Development Authority to help facilitate and promote that potential.

Another attractive feature to potential retail development is the ongoing expansion of Fort Stewart, which O’Bryan said "creates a unique opportunity that the county should let retail developers know about." He said he will help the Development Authority develop marketing materials to highlight the county’s assets and take those materials, as well as local developers and officials, to retail conventions in Atlanta.

What kind of retail would most compliment this area? O’Bryan said his research tells him that clothing chains like TJ Maxx or Kohl’s would thrive here. He also said "destination retail," such as a movie theater, would not only draw others to Bryan County but also "enhance the local restaurants and shops around the theater because people like to eat and shop along with a movie."

Why are retail sales important to a community? They generate employment opportunities and create tax money for local government.

What is the biggest retail generator in Bryan County? Gasoline sales account for a whopping 49 percent of retail – compared to a state average of 15 percent. Only two other counties in the state have a higher percentage for gasoline sales. O’Bryan said 60,000 cars a day pass through I-95 Richmond Hill exits 87 and 90 – higher than even Chatham County.

"Gasoline sales are very important in your community. It is your economic engine," O’Bryan told the group. "Savannah has its ports, Atlanta has the airport, and you’ve got the interstate and gasoline sales tax. The great thing is it’s one of the few revenue generators where you’re receiving revenue from outside the county."

O’Bryan said that’s an important point because Bryan residents themselves spend much of their money outside the county – a fact he said could turn around if more retailers set up shop here.

O’Bryan said the average amount a Bryan resident spends on local retail is $30,000, which is 25 percent below the state average. He said the average Bryan household income is $60,000, which is 15 percent above the state average, placing it in the top 10 for Georgia cities. According to those figures, Bryan residents make more money than most Georgians but spend less locally.

"Bryan County captures only about 75 percent of its retail sales dollars," O’Bryan said. "That means that, other than basic services like groceries, Bryan residents are going outside the county to buy goods."

O’Bryan said one big retailer coming to town could make a sizable economic impact. He spoke of the South Florida retailer Brandsmart, which recently opened a store in Atlanta. He said some Brandsmart stores bring in retail sales of $200 million a year. Bryan County as a whole pulls in $200 million a year in retail sales.

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