By David Hotle, The JOURNAL
Washington Economic Development Group (WEDG) director Ed Raber credits relatively new retail stores in the county for increases in county retail sales, saying more people are staying in the county to do their shopping.
Raber said that between 2011 and 2016, retail sales have increased more than 10 percent. He also said that retail sales have been on an upward trend since 2006 around Washington County. He said Kalona?s retail sales have been on an upward trend for over 20 years. While he said that one part of the change was the Riverside Casino and Golf Resort opening in 2006, he doesn?t believe that is the only factor.
?In Washington, Kalona and Wellman there is year after year growth in retail sales,? Raber said. ?I think that is because there continue to be business expansion and growth every year in those communities. It doesn?t take giant things to make this happen.?
He said in the window of growth in Washington, Wal-Mart had opened a new superstore, Orscheln had moved into a new space, the downtown became a Main Street community and many new stores had opened.
Raber said that local people opening their own businesses impact the community amount of retail sales. He said this happened in Wellman in about 2010. He said that the number of restaurants and bars have increased. With the closure of the pharmacy in Wellman, a new one opened that provides more retail. Freeman Foods also changed hands and expanded.
?It doesn?t seem like any of those things are giant, but it seems to have been compounding for year after year growth,? Raber said.
During 2017, Raber reported that Washington County had $196 million in retail sales, up $2 million over the previous year. He said this had beaten nearby counties such as Jefferson, Henry and the areas around Johnson and Linn counties.
Raber said that there are several improvements in Washington County that are continuing the trend, such as the opening of a Dollar General store in Brighton. He said that the location of the store would also bring in retail sales from nearby counties it is bordering, such as Henry and Jefferson, as well as visitors to Lake Darling State Park. When Dollar General opened in Kalona two years ago, the first year saw an increase of $3 million in sales, according to records.
Raber rememebrs in the late 1990s, people had gone out of town to shop.
He said the current numbers don?t reflect only new people visiting the area, but rather more people staying in the county to purchase retail items.
Raber also said that Johnson County regularly shows retail sales increases in the neighborhood of 7 percent a year.
?We?ve really reached a new space where our retail sales in Washington County are growing at a faster clip than in Johnson County,? Raber said. ?Even with a lot of people going to Johnson County and it being a retail mecca, we are outpacing them.?