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County Refocuses On Retail

Prince George's Aims For High-End Stores

By Krissah Williams and Neil Irwin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, December 8, 2004; Page E01

Prince George's County officials yesterday renewed their push to persuade retailers to locate in the county by releasing a 70-page report that said it is home to more high-income households than Anne Arundel and Howard counties.

The report estimated that Prince George's County this year had 115,044 households with incomes above $75,000 -- more than the two other counties, which have considerably fewer residents. It also has more households with incomes above $100,000, $125,000 and $150,000, according to the report.

Development official Kwasi Holman said the county can support high-end retailers. (Rafael Crisostomo For The Washington Post)

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Census 2000

The study, which was conducted by the McComb Group Ltd., a Minneapolis-based real estate and retail consultant, estimated that the average household income in Prince George's will grow from $68,448 this year to $76,561 in 2009.

The report "shows that our demographics support high-end retail, and really retail at all price points, and that there has been an increase in the income level in the county since the 2000 Census. We are making retailers aware of these demographic changes," said Kwasi Holman, chief executive of the Prince George's County Economic Development Corp., who passed out 50 copies of the demographic report yesterday at an International Council of Shopping Centers conference in Manhattan.

In the 2000 Census, Prince George's had 93,486 households with income above $75,000, compared with 67,942 households in Anne Arundel and 38,935 in Howard. Prince George's is a much larger county, with a population of 801,515, compared with a population of 247,842 in Howard County and 489,656 in Anne Arundel County, according to the 2000 Census.

For years, Prince George's has lost out to Montgomery and Fairfax counties, which are more affluent, in its bid to attract retailers and draw shoppers. In recent years, Howard and Anne Arundel counties have also attracted more substantial retail centers. Prince George's officials have protested that high-end retailers should not ignore the county, contending that the nation's wealthiest majority-black county can support upscale stores and that residents should not have to drive to other jurisdictions to shop.

In 2001, Landover Mall, the county's largest shopping center, closed. Bowie Town Center and the Boulevard at the Capital Center in Largo were built to fill the void but between them have attracted just one major clothing department store -- a Hecht's in Bowie. Howard and Anne Arundel counties each have a Macy's, Hecht's, Lord & Taylor and Nordstrom.

"Our residents are entitled to the same high-end retailers that our neighboring jurisdictions conveniently enjoy," County Executive Jack B. Johnson said in a statement. "My mission is to fill this void by conveying to high-end retailers that we are an excellent area for business."

The projection of increased affluence in Prince George's is entirely reasonable, said Anirban Basu, chief executive of Sage Policy Group, an economic consultancy in Baltimore. The county has enacted policies to encourage construction of high-end housing, he said, and the Washington regional economy is among the strongest in the country.

However, increased wealth may not be enough to bring in the posh retailers that county leaders covet. "I would expect greater affluence, but that by itself does not necessarily capture the imagination and attention of high-end retailers," Basu said.

He said that to attract such merchants, the county may have to establish itself as a regional draw that can pull buyers in from neighboring counties, too, as does Tysons Corner Center in Fairfax County.

Prince George's strategy is in contrast to that being pursued in Howard County, according to Richard W. Story, chief executive of the Howard County Economic Development Authority.

Most of the land in Howard County zoned for retail has already been built upon, and the county is more focused on attracting technology and other businesses that pay high wages. "Retail has among the lowest-paying jobs around," said Story, explaining his county's strategy of looking elsewhere for its growth.

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