Fort Drum Focus of Spending Study - $624 Billion: Participants Want Better Roads, More Ethnic Restaurants and Family Activities
By any count, the spending power of those who call Fort Drum home is astronomical.

In 2000, the level of so-called "Fort Drum spending" hovered around $624 billion. Yet until recently, local business owners continued to tell the Small Business Development Center at Jefferson Community College that much of this market was not trickling down to them.

Earlier this year, SBDC Director Eric F. Constance decided to find out why.

"In the marketplace, there was a concern that we have this economic engine in Fort Drum, but a lot of local businesses are having a hard time trying to understand why they're not their customers," he said.

"They see military people coming into their stores, restaurants, retail shops," Mr. Constance said. "But they really don't see as many as they think they should see."

Together with the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization, the SBDC commissioned a study in March to examine military consumer habits. Each organization contributed $2,750; results of "a study of the Fort Drum consumer market" were released last week.

The reactions of these military consumers, collected in late May and June by the Center for Community Studies at JCC, provide one of the first insights into military consumer preferences.

The study participants - all women of different ages and income levels - had similar complaints. Most said they wanted more family-friendly activities and ethnic restaurants; they had avoided some businesses because stores were crowded, roads were in poor condition and parking was hard to find, they said.

"Downtown is unique and has character," one study participant said. "I don't want to see it filled with the same chain stores you see everywhere else. But the parking and traffic are horrendous."

The study also found that local advertising has not been able to reach into the relatively insular world of the military consumer, where information tends to spread through word of mouth, Mr. Constance said. Although participants were very familiar with national brands, they tended to shy away from unfamiliar, locally owned businesses, he said.

"What it says to you is, if they find something they really like, they're going to tell everybody," Mr. Constance said. "The problem is, really, how do we get them associated with some of these businesses out there so they can find out if they like it or not?"

Among other conclusions, the study found a need for entertainment venues, ethnic restaurants and retail outlets, and better traffic flows and signs. The study also recommended that local businesses start using direct-mail advertisements as they add more family events, rewards for military customers and user-friendly Web sites to raise their profiles.

The results will be distributed among local businesses and to SBDC's 4,000-strong mailing list. The hope, FDRLO economic development task force chairman Douglas B. Schelleng said, is that the study will help businesses tap into the vast military market.

"How do you offer what you're doing now to enhance the Fort Drum consumer market part of your business?" he said. "What this amounts to, to me, is a blueprint for small businesses."

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