Union is considering using federal stimulus money for a system it hopes will draw more commercial businesses to the city.
The system, developed by Buxton, a Texas-based consumer intelligence technology company, tracks consumer shopping patterns through cell phones to help its customers identify potential business opportunities, according to Union Assistant City Administrator James Schmieder.
The program costs an estimated $25,000 a year, which could be paid for using some of the $2.2 million the city is getting from the American Rescue Plan Act, according to Buxton and city officials.
“Retailers use it to identify communities that would be a good fit,” Schmieder said. “Communities use it, just the reverse, to identify retailers that would be a good fit.”
The city could create a partnership with local businesses that would be interested in it, as well as show it to businesses the city is pursuing to come to town, Schmieder said. “You get to identify retailers that could come in that would be a good fit for our community.”
The information would show consumer income, age, spending habits and other demographics, Schmieder said.
The city worked with Buxton in 2007 to obtain consumer credit card information Buxton gathered to come up with a list of 15 retailers that the city could target to locate in the community. Union paid $19,000 toward a $50,000 study, with private investors picking up the rest.
Based on recommendations from Buxton, then-Union Community Development Director Joseph Graves contacted several chains, according to 2008 Missourian reporting.
Union was able to land some of those companies, including Tractor Supply, Dollar Tree, Burger King, Ace and Jimmy John’s, though some took more than a decade to arrive.
Technology has changed since the first Buxton report, Schmieder told aldermen.
“They get 2 billion pings a day from 130 million households in the United States,” he said. “That tells them exactly where you are and what you’re doing and how much you’re spending.”
The discussion came up at the end of Monday’s board of aldermen meeting when Alderman Robert Marquart asked about getting more information about potential retailers coming to town. He cited recent Missourian stories about a University of Missouri-Columbia population expert who estimated Union’s population growth at 16.5 percent over the last decade.
While official 2020 U.S. Census numbers haven’t been released, Union is in position to see double-digit growth for the second consecutive census. Union grew by 31.5 percent, to 10,204 residents, between 2000 and 2010.
“We might be more attractive to look at when you look at the last 20 years and what’s gone on,” Marquart said. “The last two censuses we’ve outgrown everybody (in Franklin County). ... I just think that it’s an opportunity over a 20-year stand to get us some bigger (stores).”
“It’s not hard for us to talk about who are we targeting because it’s basically anybody who’s not already in the city of Washington and that we believe would be an asset to the community,” Schmieder said.
Mayor Bob Schmuke told Schmieder he understands why Union wouldn’t pursue a large business like Schnucks or Lowe’s that’s in Washington but that the city should consider smaller strip mall stores that also are in Washington.
“We don’t want our people having to drive to Washington,” Schmuke said. “We want our tax dollars, as much as they can, to stay in Union.”
Schmieder said Union could pursue such businesses, but it also makes sense to go after competitors to businesses in Washington.
“Maybe Hobby Lobby, because they’ve got Michaels, or Dierbergs, because they’ve got Schnucks,” he said.
Schmieder emphasized he was just using those as examples and said Union wasn’t actually talking to those companies.
“We’re not after Dierbergs, but Dierbergs is an example of what’s not here in Union,” he said after the meeting. “I’ve got Frick’s and Fink’s and small businesses here now. You don’t want to saturate the market.”
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