Shared commitment, vision needed to improve pull factor
Aurora is “about average.”
That’s not a sentence, or a sentiment, local residents are accustomed to reading or hearing, though it’s the general conclusion of a recent study focused on retail shopping trends.
“Pull factor,” as is explained in a detailed business page report in this week’s edition, tracks non-motor vehicle retail sales by community, then compares that tally to other incorporated communities across the state. In 2019, Aurora’s per-capita pull factor was .79, which is considered “about average,” according to NPPD’s economic development personnel.
It would be easy, and accurate, to argue that Aurora as a community is anything but average. This community has earned a stellar reputation over many, many decades as a progressive place to live, work and raise a family. When it comes to tracking retail sales, however, statistics show that Aurora has fallen below the 1.0 plateau since 1993. A pull factor above 1.0 means you are pulling in more sales than the average from out-of-town shoppers, creating a “shopping hub” like Grand Island at 1.56. Anything below 1.0 means you have retail leakage.
Over the years we’ve seen generational, landscape changes in the way people shop, from the good old days when rural downtowns were abuzz to shopping malls, then Big Box stores and more recently the online Amazon model explosion. What has not changed, and in fact remains an evolution worth noting, are the benefits of supporting your hometown businesses.
Shopping local isn’t about blind loyalty, but rather a commitment to your community. The people who own and work at Aurora’s many restaurants and retail outlets do so to provide quality products and convenient service. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to put a specific value on that local service, though the formula for growth based on available housing, health care, quality schools, recreation, tax base and so much more simply doesn’t work well without a vibrant local business scene.
On that note, this week’s report points out that this is in fact a critical time for retail sales. Pandemic realities are promoting more and more online sales opportunities, which is opening doors for existing retailers large and small as well as at-home entrepreneurs. Aurora’s Chamber and economic development officials are working to help existing businesses tap into the digital world, while also trying to identify sectors that could create jobs and fill potential gaps. All the while, the options and variety for local dining have expanded and traditional retail vendors continue to do what they do best — provide quality products and top-notch customer service.
So what does all this data mean, and what can be done to improve Aurora’s pull factor? There is no simple fix, though there is opportunity to move the bar upward based on a shared commitment by business owners and would-be shoppers to help our community continue to thrive.