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EWU students working with city to study retail habits
11/20/2012 9:58:09 AM

By Jim Ryan
Splash Contributor

The city of Liberty Lake and a senior business capstone class at Eastern Washington University are partnering on a retail business survey that, when completed in Spring 2013, should give the city, the business community and residents a better idea of what is needed to continue the city's positive growth.

About 200 people have already completed the preliminary survey, which is being treated as a pilot survey, said Larry Davis, lecturer with the EWU College of Business. Davis said he and his students will dissect the preliminary responses and comments and then tweak the survey before mailing out a final one in February or March to all residents and businesses.

The survey gauges eating and retail habits of local households, as well as gauges the types of retail businesses residents would most like to open in the community.

The EWU students are also working on several sub-projects, including: analysis of the total potential spending dollar that could be generated in Liberty Lake and the surrounding area; finding the criteria that business chains use for establishing a business in a location; and, finally, an analysis of what businesses would work well with other businesses.

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The Liberty Lake retail survey can be completed online at www.sites.google.com/site/ewuretailsurvey 

The students initially talked to city staff and a variety of local business owners to develop the pilot survey. Davis explained the reason for the survey is to indicate the kinds of new retail businesses local and area residents would like to see added to Liberty Lake. He also said its purpose is to help recruit and incubate those businesses.

Liberty Lake Mayor Steve Peterson said he came up with the idea of the survey one day while talking to Davis.

"Larry thought it would be a good project for his class to take on," Peterson said. "We then talked about the survey during our City Council retreat in August, so this is just the perfect opportunity to use Larry's services at EWU."

Peterson said the end result he hopes for with the survey is to obtain a collection of data and demographics. He said it is prudent for the city to offer the preliminary survey before it mails out the final form to all Liberty Lake addresses, saying incremental steps are always best so that the finished product will ask the best, most relevant questions in order to obtain the most pertinent information.

"So when we're talking about community development and we're talking about new businesses and entrepreneurs, we will have a good, solid basis for what square-feet is available, what buildings are available, what needs the community has for businesses here, and what shrinkage we're losing to other communities - whether it be Post Falls, the Valley or Spokane," he said. "That way we can speak with much more authority when we're talking about community development."

Peterson said when the final results of the survey are released in Spring 2013, everyone will have access to them and the opportunity to voice their opinion, including the City Council, the administration, developers and the community.

"Everyone is going to have a good understanding, at least from a standpoint of the data that will be collected, to make decisions to invest here, grow here or stay here," Peterson said. "That is the goal. The more you know, the better off you are."

The mayor expects there will be public meetings to explain the survey findings and garner input from the community.

"The goal is to be proactive, not reactive in fulfilling the community's needs and wants," he continued.

Coinciding with the survey, the city is continuing to look at the possibility of developing a retail business incubator on land it owns between the Farmers Market and the STCU headquarters building.

The present business incubator, which was first established in 2002 and is located in the basement of Greenstone's Liberty Square building, has been "extremely successful" in giving birth to new businesses in the community, Peterson said.

"It is very successful, but here again, if we hadn't taken those incremental steps in 2002, would we have that incubator today? Probably not," he said. "So you take an incremental step and you take what you can get. You get started and you gauge what the activity and acceptance is going to be; you ask what we could have done better and then you build upon it."

Peterson explained that when the incubator was first started, the city wasn't sure who would be the strongest partner in the endeavor, perhaps SIRTI or the Valley Chamber.

"Right now we know the strongest partner is the one that's running it: the retail business section of the Valley Chamber," he said. "We are very happy with their success and the people they have been able to help."