This year for our weighty May issue we thought we'd try something a little different. We wanted to put ourselves in a developer's shoes and try our hands at figuring out where we'd build retail, if we had our druthers.

Little did we know what we were getting ourselves into. Let's just say we walked away with a newfound respect for how difficult a developer's job can be (and we didn't even have any cash riding on this exercise).

Over the course of several months the entire staff put our heads together to decide how we should approach this. We brainstormed what metrics would be important to consider and what our criteria should be in terms of picking our top opportunities.

We ended up reaching out to dozens of site specialists, data providers and brokers to pick their brains and ask for data and insight. And we also conducted a whole other round of demographic research ourselves, digging up numbers on population growth, migration patterns, income trends and retail density (among other factors). And we cross-checked our list of cities against other studies.

That gave us a mountain of data in the form of spreadsheets, interviews, market reports, white papers and other studies that took hours to sift through. But it also provided us with confidence in our selections. In the end, we think we came up with a pretty good list.

Our eight opportunities are scattered across the country and each has its own unique selling point. After starting with a pretty ambitious list of potential development opportunities, we settled on eight distinct categories that represent what we feel reflect major trends the retail industry is responding to.

In our package you won't find specific sites (that's still your job), but we did pick markets based on filling specific niches. As you'll see beginning on p. 83, we've laid out our eight opportunities in categories like Top Youth Market, Top Inner City and Top Suburb along with five others.

In each case, we weighed expert opinions and data (and also a little of what felt right to us). We've also put together a collection of vignettes describing what makes each opportunity so appetizing. And for each market we compiled some key facts and statistics to help bolster our case.

We didn't weigh the same factors equally for all markets. For example, existing retail density came into play, but we also had to factor in population and income projections differently depending on the category. And for Top College Market, we needed to do research to find a place where the college population was booming — a big reason why Minneapolis emerged as the winner there.

Anyway, we hope you find this exercise useful and informative. We sure did. And if you have thoughts on how we can do this better the next go round, let me know at david.bodamer@penton.com.