Businesses vanishing with jobs

By Billy Corriher

As more and more people have lost jobs in Clayton County, more and more businesses are leaving town, too.

Of all the county's retail space, 9.7 percent is currently vacant, compared to 6.5 percent for Fayette County and 7.7 percent for Henry County, according to Dorey Market Analysis Group. An even larger discrepancy is the vacancy rate for office space, which is 28.8 percent for Clayton County, much higher than Henry's 10.4 percent and Fayette's 18.5 percent.

Chris Shaner, senior analyst at Dorey Market Analysis Group, said unemployment has a more immediate impact on office vacancies, but retail vacancies will also usually increase.

"In general, if the jobs are going away, vacancies are going up," he said.

Shaner said the retail sector is much bigger in Clayton County than in Henry and Fayette, but more consistent unemployment could influence how many retailers want to locate here.

Emory Brock, community development director for Clayton County, said that the county's unemployment rate consistently higher than neighboring Fayette and Henry Counties, many retailers are already moving there.

And Brock said large retailers tend to relocate more often than smaller ones, and those businesses are harder to replace when they move out of a building.

"Larger spaces are more difficult because a grocery store, for instance, is designed for a grocery store," he said. "There's not many kinds of businesses that can move in and fill up those big spaces."

Brock said some big stores are now occupied with discount stores like Big Lots or with flea markets.

But with a rough economy like the one the county is experiencing now, Brock said it gets even harder to fill the void when a big retailer, like the old Macy's store in Southlake Mall in Morrow, closes down.

Morrow City Manager John Lampl said new tenants are being discussed for the store, but none have been found yet.

"Progress is being made, but we're not going to see anything immediately," he said.

Grant Wainscott, vice president for community development for the county Chamber of Commerce, said many of the vacant properties are a great opportunity for redevelopment.

"I think the promise for our community is going to be creative redevelopment," he said.

If the county "proactively plans for development," it will continue to grow and add more businesses, Wainscott said.

"Any communities are going to have vacancies," he said. "But I think we'll see some of those major vacancies filled."

The area around Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport still sees a demand for office space. Joe Crow, of Commercial Property Advisors in College Park, said 78 percent of the office space around the airport is currently occupied.

"We always have people that want to be close to the airport," he said.