The city of Rosemount is looking to bolster its retail economy and has hired an expert to help it understand what kinds of stores and restaurants its residents and visitors would like to see.

The City Council recently approved a contract with Buxton, a consumer analytics firm that has helped guide retail strategies in more than 700 U.S. communities. The Fort Worth, Texas-based company will be paid $50,000 a year for three years for its services.

Buxton got its start 20 years ago, working with large national retail and restaurant chains like Target, Lowe’s, Trader Joe’s and Applebee’s to help them choose sites. About 10 years ago, it broadened its scope to work with cities. North St. Paul recently hired the company to help it recruit retailers, and it also has worked with Ramsey and St. Paul.

The company has about 250 proprietary databases to help cities define their retail markets. “We help communities understand who their citizens are as customers, then help identify retailers that want to locate around those types of customers,” said Cody Howell, a vice president.

Now, a lot of those customers in Rosemount are going elsewhere to shop and dine, most often to Apple Valley and Eagan. Like many communities, Rosemount has seen its housing market begin to bounce back from the recession, but there’s been little significant commercial development. The city’s compact downtown is dominated by small, independent merchants. Plans for the city’s first brand-name hotel, a Country Inn & Suites, were approved in 2012 but have languished.

Community Development Director Kim Lindquist said areas near County Road 42 would be the logical place for more retail development. “We really want to have a general merchandiser, like a Target or Wal-Mart,” she said. Cub Foods is currently the only big-box merchant in the city.

A big-box merchant also could be a magnet for other new small and midsize stores and support existing shops and restaurants, Lindquist said.

Howell said Buxton’s expertise can help the city sort out which variety of large general merchandiser would be the best fit. “There are definitely differences between Target and Wal-Mart shoppers,” Howell said.

Erin Gerlach, general manager of Rudy’s Redeye Grill, said she would welcome a larger critical mass of retailers. The restaurant eliminated lunch service a few years ago because a lack of daytime traffic. “Everybody commutes to other cities. It’s kind of a ghost town during the day,” she said.

Lindquist said that Rosemount’s reputation as a commuter city is not truly accurate and that the huge presence of Flint Hills Resources, the city’s largest employer, is sometimes overlooked. The refinery has about 1,000 permanent employers but often supplements its workforce with temporary workers. It currently has about 2,000 temporary employees working on a $400 million upgrade and has plans for another $300 million project that would employ an additional 1,500 people through 2016.

A market study in connection with the hotel project noted that Dakota County Technical College is another potential driver of retail demand. Lindquist said the college draws about 3,000 students, many of them potential customers.

“We’ve got some stories here that are unique, that other communities don’t have,” Lindquist said. “We need to be able to capture that in a demographic way to tell that story to retailers.”