We are the best chance for success in area

Published 12:01 am Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Natchez business community took another blow last week with news the former Rite-Aid store would close soon.

The closure, while small in terms of overall economic impact, perhaps has the potential to let us examine the factors driving the changing local business environment.

The Rite-Aid closure is one of several over the last few years — J.C. Penney, Kmart, Wilson-Holder Drug Co., Turning Pages Books & More, etc.

Each of those closures on the surface may have been overlooked, but taken as a whole they indicate two problems.

First, our nation’s shopping habits are changing — fast.

Second, our community’s declining population means a decline in the number of potential customers in the years ahead.

That problem would have been a tough battle for retailers 40 years ago. Today, unfortunately, many retailers simply don’t want to bother considering how to make it in a dwindling community, let alone putting on the gloves and getting into the ring to duke it out with competitors.

Traditional retailers are finding it tough to compete with the unlimited inventory found through online retailers.

Rite-Aid may have been a victim of that in a way. The company’s ultimate decision in Natchez was tied to a corporate buyout of a number of Rite-Aid stores by the Walgreens Boots Corporation.

Not much anyone locally could have done to stop that, it would seem.

Each business closure also has unique factors that drove the decision.

But they have one thing in common, generally, not enough business to justify keeping the business operating.

Talking to business people around Natchez, they all lament the same thing — a need for more local customers.

For a number of years, many local car dealers have taken to trying to market to areas hundreds of miles away in hopes of luring additional buyers from afar.

That would have been unheard of 10 or 20 years ago. Their businesses could live fine off the Natchez community alone.

Back then, however, it would have been rare for someone to drive hours away to purchase a car or — heaven forbid — buy a car sight unseen from someone on the Internet.

Yet today some Natchez dealerships say they would not survive without the business of non-local customers.

Yes, our world is changing fast.

But rather than simply getting depressed, shrugging our shoulders and saying, “What can you do?”

Let’s do something.

To stop the population decline we must reverse the migration of people out of Natchez.

That sounds simple doesn’t it?

But recruiting new business and industry or growing the business and industry already here is difficult.

It’s difficult in no small part due to the high level of competition all around us.

But it’s also difficult because of our well-known problems. In the grand scheme of the world, we’re isolated — not on an interstate highway. We have public schools that are working to improve.

And we have city and county government leaders that squabble between themselves and often must be led by public outrage to do the right thing.

Fortunately, several years ago the business community began what would eventually become Natchez Inc., the area’s economic development engine.

Natchez Inc. is funded by four entities — Adams County, the City of Natchez, the Town of Vidalia and Natchez Now, a private group of business people who want to help.

The cost of travel and other recruitment endeavors can be costly, that’s why your help is needed.

If you love Natchez, Vidalia and Adams County, you can help.

First, remember to support the businesses already here by patronizing them whenever, wherever possible.

If you’re able, please consider becoming an investor in Natchez Now to help fund Natchez Inc.

Aside from just dumb luck, it’s the best chance we have to stop shuttering businesses and start opening some new ones.
Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.