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Cottage Grove will sell itself at retail convention

It's slow going in the retail market these days -- Cottage Grove officials can see that in the city's empty commercial spaces.

But, city officials say, the downturn won't last forever. And when it finally turns, they want to be on the minds of developers and retailers looking to expand.

So, this autumn Cottage Grove will attend the Chicago conference of the International Council of Shopping Centers, a trade association aimed at furthering the interests of shopping centers.

There, city administrator Ryan Schroeder said, officials will meet with developers and businesses to "sell Cottage Grove, sell the Cottage Grove market."

It will be the first time Cottage Grove officials will attend such a convention -- though, Schroeder says, numerous cities attend the various regional International Council of Shopping Centers conferences.

They'll go with the city's resume in hand, ready to tout what the city has to offer retailers and commercial developers: an average household income of $95,825, proximity to major attractions like the Mall of America and to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport; soon-to-be completed bridge construction; existing vacancies ready to be occupied.

The conference presents an opportunity, Mayor Myron Bailey said, to sit down and sell the city to "the decision-makers." It's an audience city officials don't often get, he said, at least not until late in the planning process, by which time the city is already competing with others for a particular development.

"The decision-makers will be at this meeting," Bailey said. "The decision-makers don't always come to town."

Officials will meet with several retailers and commercial developers during the three-day conference, making their pitch and hoping to schedule follow-up meetings and possible visits.

"We don't anticipate that as a result of this visit people will see new businesses in Cottage Grove next year," Schroeder said. "But as the economy turns around, and as retailers are starting to look at where new locations might make some sense, and if they think of Cottage Grove" the trip will be a success, he said.

Plans for the convention, to be held Oct. 28 to 30, have not been finalized. Schroeder said he anticipates the city will send Bailey, himself and at least one additional staff member. Officials are also encouraging some local business owners and developers to attend.

The Economic Development Authority Fund, comprised of money contributed by local businesses, will fund the trip to Chicago.

The goal, Bailey said, is simple: "When things start turning around, we'll be on the top of the list instead of the bottom."

What is it?

The International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) meeting in Chicago, where hundreds of businesses, developers and cities will meet to discuss development and expansion opportunities.

Why go?

Cottage Grove officials say attending the conference will help the city make valuable inroads with businesses and commercial developers. That, officials say, could help commercial development in the city pick up more quickly when the economy turns around. The city will use dollars contributed by local businesses to the Economic Development Authority Fund to finance the trip.