Every year, thousands of retail real estate buyers, sellers, brokers, and location advocates from around the country gather for RECon, an event organized by the International Council of Shopping Centers.
Karen Lauerman, President and CEO of the Lake County IN Economic Alliance (LCEA) represented all of Lake County with other broker/community advocates at at the show. While there, she shared innovative regional projects like the expansion of the South Shore Line with transit development districts, highlighted available properties absorbed successful endeavors from nationwide colleagues, learned best practices from experts, and met with new potential business partners.
"We did a great job," Lauerman said. "Every year that LCEA attends, we increase the number of meetings and and inquiries based on those meetings."
This was LCEA’s fifth year attending the conference. Lauerman spoke of several new conversation and presentation topics that made her especially excited about Lake County’s potential to bring in new businesses and jobs.
"Our focus was taking what we have and thinking about repurposing, creating these new anchor visions, along with attracting traditional retail, food and beverage" she said.
She attended sessions that spoke to re-envisioning vacant big box store buildings as light industrial and manufacturing assembly locations, or space for back-office operations like billing and call centers. Other possible conversion ideas Lauerman explored at the conference included last-mile distribution and brick-and-mortar retail spaces for eCommerce sites; mixed-use entertainment complexes; and health and wellness providers.
Presenters credited these kinds of projects with the revitalization of struggling retail centers by re-infusing those areas with a pool of shoppers from other industry sectors, especially benefiting communities that are challenged with industrial/commercial space that rely on retail/eater-tainment as a development, job and investment core.
"They had a new healthcare marketplace, which I found incredibly interesting because we're not just talking about primary care services, we're also talking about life-style components including spa services, wellness clinics and fitness centers," Lauerman said.
Businesses that offer experiences like spa, food, and entertainment have become major value-add components of the current retail evolution cycle, she explained. People like being able to multi-task in one location for shopping, work-out, and lunch or dinner all in the same complex as a quality of life enhancement.
In addition to meeting with potential business representatives and developing new use ideas for existing properties, the convention was full of best practice learning opportunities.
"We came back with an idea for directory of services and profile concept, a lookbook of each community” she said. “ When we have something in our hands to say, 'this is what our communities are willing to do, is more attractive than let us know if you are interested."
Through conversations with others in the field, LCEA learned of two effective incentive programs for downtown districts working to drive investments.
"It was a very educational trip," Lauerman said. "I felt energized, invigorated and enthusiastic."
It was a successful one, too. LCEA is already in preliminary discussions with one of the organizations they met with at the conference.
"That gives me hope,” Lauerman said. "I think that we have a very good shot at bringing some of these companies that I spoke with into Lake County."
"While retail in its purest sense is not the driving focus of LCEA, we understand the economic impact of retail, entertainment and hospitality industry. LCEA’s presence at RECon ensures that we have a voice in attracting quality establishments to Lake County. A win for one community is a win for all,” she continued, “LCEA is bringing more attention to Lake County and Northwest Indiana for business opportunities.”