Marshall County commissioners have stepped away from entering a contract with Buxton Co., the Fort Worth, Texas-based business offering to analyze consumers here to attract restaurants and other retailers.
"Why do it now without an economic and community development director?" County Commissioner Mary Ann Neill asked during this month's commission meeting. Plans to hire Buxton, she added, "have been on hold for months."
Jamie Stitt, the county's first executive director of the Joint Economic and Community Development Board, has started a new job with the Three Star Program in the state Department of Economic and Community Development. She had been following up on local officials' discussions with Buxton since one of the company's business scouts pitched their service here last winter.
The idea is to analyze data such as sales receipts to create a personality profile of consumer tastes and to match that with data that defines, for example, consumers who prefer dining at Applebee's. The resulting figures would then be used to help convince that company to locate one of its chain restaurants here.
Commissioner Richard Medley, the county's new budget committee chairman, presented a resolution Monday night to join with Lewisburg and Chapel Hill to share Buxton's $70,000 fee. Commissioner Jimmy Stitt, husband of the former JE&CD director here, seconded Medley's motion, a step needed for discussion on the resolution.
Ultimately, Stitt was the only commissioner to vote against a superseding motion to delay county participation in the contract.
While it was Jamie Stitt who coordinated conversations with Buxton and it's clear that she can't continue to be Buxton's contact here, discussion among commissioners on Monday revealed that Lisa Jackson, a Lewisburg city employee, is prepared to be the local official who works with Buxton.
Commissioner Joe B. Brandon noted that the Tennessee Valley Authority has a database that's accessible to local government officials interested in economic development. Such resources offer a cost-effective alternative to the services offered by companies such as Buxton, he added.
Brandon said that after speaking with community leaders in Shelbyville, Fayetteville, Pulaski and Lawrenceburg, he has found that Dyersburg is apparently one of the few municipalities in Tennessee to have hired Buxton.
"All of them say, 'Don't do it until you know the results of this program,'" Brandon said in an apparent reference to Dyersburg. "Will we, in fact, get the results that Buxton says we will?"
Neill advocated a do-it-yourself approach.
"There's nothing to stop us from looking" she said. "We've got people to look and know what to ask. We've got to sell ourselves. Buxton will just give us numbers. We'll have to sell it. And the situation may change in six months."
County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett said the process of finding a new executive director for the JE&CD is expected begin next week.
The quality of a successor may well "depend on how much you pay," Liggett said.
Brandon pointed out that consolidating their economic development efforts, local communities could afford to attract one better-paid official, which would likely bring better results.
Before county commissioners voted 16-1 on Commissioner Jennifer Harris' motion to return the Buxton contract resolution to various committees for more review, Commissioner Seth Warf asked for a specific statement on the cost of the Buxton contract.
Commissioner Stitt replied that the county's portion is 50 percent, or $35,000. Lewisburg has budgeted $26,250 for its share. Chapel Hill is committed to spending $8,750 on the contract.
Discussion among city leaders here and in Chapel Hill indicate their awareness that area residents do want another eatery, described as a "sit-down restaurant."
As recently as this month's meeting of the Chapel Hill Board of Mayor and Aldermen, Mayor Carl Cooper mentioned Applebee's as a restaurant he'd be pleased to have in Chapel Hill.
His comment was part of discussion on a local businesswoman's request for permission to serve beer to her customers when they eat a barbecue sandwich.
She had explained that golfers come to eat after playing a match at Henry Horton State Park. The restaurant at the park is prohibited from serving alcoholic beverages. She has a permit to sell beer, but it must be taken elsewhere for consumption.