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C'mon, Trader Joe's: Prove me wrong

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It happens more often than you'd think. I get together with friends I haven't seen for a while, we relax and talk through the “how have you been?” part of the conversation, and then someone asks this, because they know I work at the Business Journal:

“When are we getting a Trader Joe’s?”

The question is partly flattering, since they think I know everything about midstate businesses, and partly funny, because I’m pretty sure, without any insider knowledge, that the answer is “Never.” Or pretty close to it.

Yes, I know the quirky, upscale retailer opened a store recently in Centre County, but if all the analysts, marketers and academics who write about the wild success and mystery that is Trader Joe’s are even halfway correct, a store in the midstate will be a long time coming.

Is that better than “never?” Not to my friends.

Let me say right up front, Trader Joe’s is very secretive about its growth plans and site selection process. “We actually don’t disclose what goes into the decision-making process in selecting a location,” TJ spokeswoman Alison Mochizuki told Prairie Business Magazine last spring.

Nevertheless, the professional consensus is that Trader Joe’s looks for three things in siting a new store: population density with a high concentration of people with college degrees; households with an income of $100,000 and above, with 40 percent as the threshold; and a robust logistics/distribution network.

Well, the midstate certainly wins on that last one, but the other two factors seem to put us out of the running. According to demographic database ZIP Atlas, the top three communities in Adams, Cumberland, Dauphin, Lancaster, Lebanon and York counties for percentage of $100,000-plus households are Brownstown in West Earl Township, Lancaster County (No. 21, with 43 percent); Mount Gretna (No. 104, with 23 percent); and Hummelstown (No. 121, with 21 percent). It’s a long, long way down the list until you come to another midstate community.

One thing all three of those communities share — with the exception of Hummelstown, they are beyond tiny. Brownstown has 2,800 residents, Mount Gretna 602.

The list is dominated by the Philly suburbs. And guess what they have? Half-a-dozen Trader Joe’s stores.

We might do better on educational level — percentage of college-educated people in the midstate range from 19 (Lebanon County) to 32 (Cumberland County).

But I just don’t see it happening. On income levels and education, Centre County compares well with the midstate but definitely strikes out on accessibility when it comes to transporting goods. But it has something we never will — Penn State.

I am a big believer in the adage, “Never say never,” however. So prove me wrong, Trader Joe’s. When are you coming to the midstate? I want to see what all the fuss is about.

The week ahead

Did somebody say it’s time for the annual Top 100 Private Companies issue? Yes, indeed — coming this week! In addition to an issue packed with insight into how the midstate’s top privately held companies have fared in the past year and why, this year there are a few surprises and even some prizes.

If you don’t subscribe, now’s the time.

Meanwhile, here are the week’s networking opportunities.

The rewind

Colleges in the midstate have begun welcoming back students and getting this year’s crop of freshers acclimated, and the Class of 2018 Mindset list comes out Tuesday. Compiled annually at Beloit College in Wisconsin, it’s aimed at faculty to remind them that, well, times change even if we don’t notice. Here’s what I wrote about the List last year.

More from the Fast Forward Blog

Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@cpbj.com

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