It was standing room only during a public meeting on economic development Thursday night at the Clarion Inn Copper King Hotel and Convention Center.
About 100 people piled into a small conference room in the Harrison Avenue hotel to hear about what members of Butte’s economic development team have been doing to boost the local economy.
The team — an informal group that started meeting a little over a year ago, consisting of Chief Executive Dave Palmer and other county officials, the Butte Local Development Corporation, the Butte Chamber of Commerce, and other organizations — spoke briefly on their mission and the recent visit to Butte by four professionals from the Site Selectors Guild.
But the bulk of the night’s discussion was on the possibility of striking up a partnership with Texas-based analytics firm Buxton Co.
Company representative Robb Miller told audience members Thursday that Buxton uses large amounts of data to help municipalities target and recruit retailers.
Think of Buxton as a kind of online dating site for the retail industry: it’s all about matchmaking.
The company works by purchasing consumer information from credit card companies and other providers and using it to make matches between communities and retailers using what’s known as psychographic data — data about consumers’ shopping habits, lifestyle choices, age, class, and more.
This information helps Buxton clients identify retailers whose existing customers look similar to the residents living in their communities, and it enables them to narrow their recruitment efforts to those retailers who appear to be the best match for their markets.
“Retailers are not pioneers,” Miller said, noting that retailers are all about the bottom line when it comes to site selection. They don’t like to take risks, he said, and are not likely to break into a new market without cold, hard facts that point to a likelihood of success.
But with Buxton’s data in hand, Miller claimed, municipalities can arm themselves with information and reach out to the right retailers with something concrete.
Using Buxton’s services, however, isn’t cheap.
Working with the company costs $50,000 per year, Miller said. The company lays out a three-year plan, but clients aren’t locked into all three years.
BLDC Executive Director Joe Willauer and Butte-Silver Bow Community Development Director Karen Byrnes previously told The Montana Standard that the intent of Thursday’s meeting was to gauge public interest in working with the firm.
Both said Friday they felt the reception from the audience was positive, with Willauer stating that he felt the meeting “couldn’t have gone better.”
However, a partnership between Butte’s economic development team and Buxton is not a done deal, and what that partnership would look like is yet to be determined.
“It’s still up in the air,” said CEO Palmer Thursday when asked if Butte-Silver Bow would be hiring Buxton or if a partnership with the company would be shared among all of the members of the economic development team.
Nonetheless, Palmer concluded the meeting by stating, “I think it’s a step in the right direction personally.”
Byrnes, meanwhile, said the team will take up the topic two weeks from now at the next economic development team meeting, at which point they’ll discuss public feedback, possible sources of funding, and which organization would be Buxton’s main point of contact. The team also plans to reach out to other communities that have partnered with Buxton in an effort to vet the company, she said.