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Released December 16, 2004

HATTIESBURG -Although Lamar County's lure as a shopping Mecca for surrounding counties has slipped in recent years, it still enjoys the second highest "retail pull factor" in the state, a new study shows.

A 12-year analysis of Forrest and Lamar Counties' retail pull factors (RPF), the measures that indicate the extant to which a local economy serves as a retail trade center, show that Lamar County has the second highest RPF rating in the state, second only to Tunica County.

Conducted by Dr. Charles Cartee, a finance and real estate professor from The University of Southern Mississippi's College of Business, the study examined retail and personal income data supplied by the Mississippi State Tax Commission and the Bureau of Economic Analysis from the period 1990-2002.

While both counties have maintained a consistent overall retail growth pattern for the 1990-2002 period, the data indicate that Lamar County has increased it retail pull strength as compared to Forrest County over the past few years. The study further indicates that Lamar County retail sales are becoming an increasing portion of the combined sales of the two counties.

Also, based on the low retail pull factors of most surrounding counties, Cartee said it would appear that the Forrest-Lamar area has remained a draw for these counties, which tend to drive up the high RPFs calculated for Forrest and Lamar County.

Although similar studies have been done, Cartee said he wanted to examine numbers affecting Forrest and Lamar over a longer term.

"I ran across a 2-3 year study at the state level, and thought it would be interesting to go back at least a decade and look at the numbers. A one or two year observation doesn't really tell you that much," Cartee said.

Calculating a county's RPF factor is made possible using a simple formula: the ratio of a county's retail sales as a percent of its personal income, which is then divided by the ratio of the state's total retail sales as a percent of the state's personal income. The state ratio serves as the baseline case, which is then divided into each county's ratio.

An RPF greater than one indicates that the county is serving as a retail trade center and is drawing shoppers and their dollars to the county from outside its area. An RPF less than one would indicate that residents of that county are shopping outside the county for certain goods and services.

Of the seven counties surrounding Lamar and Forrest - Perry, Stone, Pearl River, Marion, Jefferson Davis, Covington and Jones - only two of them, Marion and Jones, had RPF scores higher than one (1.09 each). The other five counties ranged from .40 in Perry County to .77 in Pearl River, indicating that a significant amount of retail sales activity is being supplied to these counties by other areas. Based on the high RPFs in Forrest and Lamar and the relatively low scores in the seven surrounding counties, it would appear that Forrest and Lamar are providing and absorbing a significant portion of the surrounding retail activity.

In the early 90s, the retail pull factor for Lamar County was below 1, meaning shoppers were going outside of the county to buy goods and services. That changed in 1994, when the RPF exceeded one for the first time, then jumped from 1.05 to 1.49 in 1995. It increased even more during 1995-96, moving to 1.79, the highest point in the 12-year analysis. It ranged from 1.61 to 1.70 during 1997-2000, but dropped to 1.54 in 2001-02.

"The strength of that pull has declined, but keeping things in perspective, it's still the second highest in the state," Cartee said.

An analysis of Forrest County showed a strong retail pull of 1.36 in 1990, compared to Lamar's .80 for the same year. From 1990-95, Forrest County's RPFs ranged from 1.30 to 1.38, but then dropped to 1.15 in 1996. Since 1997-2002, those numbers have ranged from 1.19 to 1.23.

Of interest, Cartee said, is the fact that when the RPF in Forrest County made its largest one-year drop from 1.30 to 1.15 between 1995 and 1996, Lamar County saw its largest one-year increase moving from 1.49 to 1.79, the highest in the 1990-2002 period.

"Needless to say, the dramatic increases in Lamar County's RPFs versus the decline and leveling off of Forrest County's RPFs would seem to coincide with the growth of the Hattiesburg city limits into Lamar County and the increasing retail development activity along the Hardy Street-U.S. Highway 98 corridor west of Interstate 59," Cartee said.

Although Lamar County's retail pull has diminished somewhat over the past five years, some do not expect that to last.

"I think we're going to see within the next year those numbers go upward, with developments like New Pointe, Target, and other projects in the works in Lamar County," said Kelly Thornton, director of public relations for Mac's Construction, which oversaw the development of New Pointe Shopping Center in Lamar County.

"We have people coming from all over, Marion County, Jeff Davis, even Jones County, who are looking for unique places to shop. People are tired of going to the mall all of the time; they want specialty stores, something different.

"I overheard one customer shopping at New Pointe who said she felt like she was in another state. That's a good response," Thornton said.

Cartee said he thinks the reams of data he collected and analyzed for his historical study could be useful for future developers and economic planners. Once his study is published, Cartee said he intends to make his data available to the Area Development Partnership in Hattiesburg.


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January 19, 2005 3:36 PM