Charles and Yolonda Wood shop for rugs outside of Hammer's store on Thursday, July 17, 2014, in South Pittsburg, Tenn.

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South Pittsburg hires retail coaching firm to help recruit new business

SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn. — Retail business in South Pittsburg has been on the decline for several years, and with the recent announcement that the town's largest tax money generator, Royal Remanufacturing, is closing permanently, city leaders are searching for a solution.

At the August meeting of the South Pittsburg City Commission, Mayor Virgil Holder said a team was formed to help recruit businesses.

Last month, its members attended a retail academy in Franklin, Tenn., and met later with retailers and developers in Nashville.

"This was a very big learning experience for us," Holder said. "We've learned that in order to recruit businesses nowadays other than your mom-and-pop businesses, you've got to have major help. So we are pursuing that."

City Administrator Gene Vess said it is estimated that between 19,000 and 39,000 cars "have the potential" to come through South Pittsburg on a daily basis.

"We want to explore that and go a little bit further," he said."Unfortunately, we're not the professionals. We know how to sell ourself. We know what we have and we know what we can offer, but we've got to know how to approach them [businesses]. We have to have some help to guide us."

City leaders researched several companies for these services, and Vess recommended the board hire a retail consulting firm called Buxton in Fort Worth, Texas, for $50,000 per year for three years.

"They are well established in this business," he said. "They've been doing it for about 20-plus years or so."

Vess also recommended the board agree to use $25,000 from a $100,000 certificate of deposit to make the initial payment for Buxton's services.

The board voted 4-1 to approve the contract. Commissioner Ronnie Lancaster voted against the move but didn't comment on the matter.

"I know it's a lot of money, but we have found out that you're not going to get it [retail businesses] without some professional help to go with it," Holder said. "That's the only way we're going to get it, so that's what we're going to do."

If the town gets the commitments it needs from businesses during the first year of the contract, he said the city "won't go any further" with it.

Vess said the town can "get out" of the contract "whenever we want to."

"You've got to go out, and you've got to attract people," he said. "We've got to be able to sell South Pittsburg. I mean, we've got a very beautiful city. We've got a lot to offer. We've got a river for tourism. We've got a mountain for tourism. We've just got to figure out how to develop that."

Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at