Experts identify "hidden economies" in Iowa City


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Iowa City has the potential to appeal to national retailers, according to one real estate expert.

Researcher John Millar, the vice president of Divaris Real Estate, presented the results of his strategic assessment of downtown to the Iowa City City Council Tuesday night.

In his research, Millar looked at the "hidden economies" that exist, which will bring up the marketability of downtown Iowa City to potential retail businesses.

According to the report , Iowa City's spending power is about $44,000 in a one-mile radius.

Without students' incomes, however, the spending power within Iowa City is about $92,000, leaving a $48,000 gap in results.

Millar said the research demonstrates spending power in Iowa City, the different types of retail locals are interested in, and different food services residents would like to see downtown. The Council hired Millar last spring after he presented his research on the "hidden economies" of college towns.

"Hidden economies are the result of nonresident economic activity not recorded in the U.S. census for that geographic region," Millar said during his presentation.

And City Councilors were pleased with the results.

"This will be a helpful tool as the city moves forward," said City Councilor Ross Wilburn.

City Councilor Regenia Bailey said she believes the findings will prove helpful to the city.

"I think the research provides some really helpful information for the economic development staff," she said. "I think it also would help local entrepreneurs branch out."

Karen Kubby, the head of the newly implemented self-supporting municipal district tax levy, said she thought the report could be used to recruit new and help current business expand and prosper in central Iowa City.

"It's also critical information for local entrepreneurs for creating a business plan to have that kind of economic information about our local market available to them," Kubby said.

The findings from the report would be used by the municipal district's committee, she said.

"Besides marketing, one of the [levy's] major goals is to retain and recruit businesses for downtown, and there will be lots of discussion about that," she said. "That information will be along the spectrum for businesses to see the whole area, as well as downtown, as a very viable place to do business."

Wendy Ford, the city economic-development coordinator, said the report was important for Iowa City because household income is an important aspect of a community for businesses interested in locating in the city.

The report also showed the economic effect sporting events have on local businesses.

"Thirteen percent of these visitors just come and hang around," Millar said. "They go shopping or go in a bar and watch the game."

Ford said the city will use the information to expand the city.

"We want to maximize or make the best things happen as soon as possible for Iowa City, and having the tools to do that — and this being one of those tools — is important," Ford said.

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