An amazing event occurred on May 3. Beginning at 9 a.m. at Tipsy McSway’s, 71 people assembled to celebrate the first anniversary of 1 Million Cups — Brunswick, the local franchise of the entrepreneurship program developed by the Kauffman Foundation of Kansas City. We celebrated by eating good food, by listening to the stories of two entrepreneurs and by knowing that an entrepreneurial ecosystem is taking root in the Golden Isles.
What of the local entrepreneurial ecosystem? It is small, growing, significantly comprised of women and has a strong internal network. This can be seen in the feeling one gets when visiting downtown Brunswick. We think a corner may have been turned. You can’t help but feel this way when you see the 21 female entrepreneurs lead businesses in downtown, the entrepreneurial steps of the Kaufman Development Group at the ‘Wick’ in the former Royal Hotel and the construction and coming opening of Richland Rum.
Those of us at the Reg Murphy Center for Economic and Policy Studies at the College of Coastal Georgia are not surprised to find entrepreneurs in the center of this quiet economic development. Entrepreneurs will tread where others dare not venture.
Where is government in all of this? Initially it is seen in our infrastructure. Police, fire protection, water, sewer and the like serve as our day-to-day interaction with government.
We also see government when there is a call for our development to be “planned.” People often worry when economic development is left in the hands of individual entrepreneurs working individually. Surely, it is argued, things can be even better if there is a bit of guidance given to it by our elected leaders. Here one sees planning and zoning, development authorities, licensing, etc. Locally we have seen hotels discussed, convention centers mentioned, and retail/residential plans presented to government or quasi-governmental agencies.
As government and the bureaucratic processes move forward attempting to make sense out of it all, the economists of the Murphy Center wish to offer some fundamental economics that could be a useful guide to governmental decisions.
We have heard in several settings that there is a desire among elected officials and others to create a retail center in downtown Brunswick. What are the economics to make this a reality? Lets first look at a success story creating a retail center — Canal Crossing. One cannot help but be impressed by the international chains that have chosen to locate at the Crossing. Furthermore, they have at least one thing in common — they located there because there is a given level of population density in the surrounding area that gives their new operation a high likelihood of success. Canal Crossing would have never happened in any of the small towns between here and Waycross. There just isn’t the population density. Yet, the low density is sufficient for Dollar General — rural retail is their niche.
So, here is the fundamental lesson economics tell us is behind development — people precede retail. Retail comes second. If the population is not there retail will not come. As such, governmental policy should first and foremost help support the creation of new populations wherever they wish to see retail appear.
To make our downtown a retail center we first need to simply get people to come to downtown. First Friday is a start. People coming to see Richland Rum is another. We have heard of a church wanting to locate on Newcastle Street. Imagine a congregation of hundreds of people coming to town once a week, many of whom never venture to town now. Building apartments is another, and may be the most significant key — where people live is usually near where they shop. Yet, in the end, once people come, retail will follow.
For now lets celebrate the brave entrepreneurs of Susan Bates of Tipsy’s, Jennifer Zamudio of Dot and Army, Eric Vonk of Richland Rum, Matthew Raiford and Jovan Sage of the Farmer and Lauder, to name only a few. Now lets find ways to just get people to come. A start might be to have government simply let entrepreneurs be entrepreneurial. “Getting out of the way” is a policy too.
Dr. Skip Mounts is Dean of the
School of Business and Public Management at College of Coastal Georgia and is an associate of
the Reg Murphy Center of Economic and Policy Students at the College. Dr. Don Mathews is a Professor of Economics and Director
of the Murphy Center.