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Prince George’s County hopes tours woo retailers

Prince George’s County Economic Development Corp. wants to attract potential retailers by showing them what the jurisdiction has to offer up-close and personal.

On Tuesday, the county’s quasi-governmental economic development arm unveiled a new strategy that involves getting potential retailers to the county in person to meet with developers and show what the county has to offer.

Previously the corporation has met with developers ahead of International Council of Shopping Centers Mid-Atlantic and Las Vegas conferences. Larry Hentz, the corporation’s director of business development, said officials primarily try to help set up meeting with retailers and developers at those conferences.

But now the corporation wants to take things a step further. Through a public private partnership with developers, retail brokers and possibly existing retailers, the corporation wants to bring groups of potential retailers to the county to show off potential sites.

The initial thought is that the groups of retailers would be small, which would allow them to focus on “high-end targets.” Making those connections, Hentz said, can make the difference in attracting new businesses.

“It the difference between a real personal relationship with someone and knowing someone through email,” Hentz said.

The new strategy was announced on Tuesday, following a meeting between the corporation and Michael Amann Jr., developer of Forestville Plaza; Jeffery Berman, vice president of Berman Enterprises; and Howard Biel Sr., vice president of Echo Realty. Hentz said he believes Prince George’s County is the first in the area to try such an approach in luring retailers.

The hope is that Prince George’s County would host its first tour showing off the county about 30 to 45 days after the annual ISCS conference in Las Vegas, scheduled for next May.

At first the group is expected to be small, no more than five, according to Hence. Eventually the tours, which could be two days and one night or three days and two nights, could expand to larger groups “organically.”

The new initiative is part of a larger effort by County Executive Rushern L. Baker III to improve the county’s reputation as a place to do business, Hentz said. Hentz pointed to efforts in Baker’s administration, such as streamlining permitting, and implementing ethics reforms and creating a $50 million Economic Development Incentive Fund, as proof of those efforts.

In an interview early last year, Baker, a Democrat who is said to be considering a run for governor, made clear his top priority for the county was improving its business climate.

“I look at Prince George’s County four years ago when I took over, and the biggest issue we had, or at least one of the biggest issues, was we couldn’t get businesses to want to come to the county,” Baker said in March of 2015. “The reputation and feel about where the county was going was not great.”