Monday, June 7, 2010

Buy Local First!

“We all participate in weaving the social fabric; we should therefore all participate in patching the fabric when it develops holes.” ~Anne C. Weisberg

Two or three years ago – when I started contributing “ditties” to the Drummond Island Digest – my first essay was on the ritual and routine of stocking an Up North pantry. Anyone born and raised in the north (or lucky enough to have a second home Up North) knew all to well the custom I spoke of in that article:

You walk around the house with a pad of paper and pencil, opening all the pantry doors as you jot down the essentials that need to be re-stocked. Then you call your closest friends and relatives to let them know you are “making a run” and get their lists. When the big day comes the kids all vie for “shot-gun” and you head out early in the morning for a day of shopping in the big city.

Let’s face it, retailers and warehouse super stores that can only be found in larger communities make “one-stop shopping” a concept that appeals to all of us. And when these stores can lure us in with lower prices and super sales we feel good about the money we think we are saving. But there is a hidden price . . . and one that can end up drastically altering our own small community.

In these hard economic times by thinking local first we make choices that have dramatic impact on our community, our economy, and our environment. While it will rarely be possible to buy everything we need or use from local independent businesses, I am advocating for people to first think local in order to maximize the impact of daily actions and purchasing decisions. Buy LOCAL First refers to a commitment to our community.

Compared to national competitors, local independent businesses return more money to the local economy and give an average of two to three times greater support to non-profit organizations. They are better positioned to respond to the special needs of the community and more invested in its future. When was the last time you saw Wal-Mart listed in the Digest as a sponsor for the March of Dimes Dance, the Hunter’s Dinner or the Snowmobile Grooming Fund-raiser?

Local, independently owned businesses are the backbone of an economy, the lifeblood of a community. By increasing the number of independent, local-to-local economic transactions, we:

*Support local entrepreneurs

*Sustain family farms and orchards

*Create local jobs that stay in our community

*Have greater control over environmental impacts

*Increase sales and tax receipts to finance schools, police and fire departments, arts, roads, and open spaces

*Maintain a unique sense of place, directly contributing to what will keep our home place alive and special in the long-run

*Maximize the economic multiplier (that means every expenditure of a dollar generates more than a dollar's worth of activity and cascades into a larger number of transactions that enrich the community).

Choosing local over non-local has 2-3 times more financial impact in our community, promotes more reinvestment locally, creates quality jobs, and encourages more donations to local charities and causes.

Several studies have shown that money spent at a locally owned business stays in the local economy and continues to strengthen the economic base of the community. A 2002 case study in Austin, Texas showed that for every $100 in consumer spending at a national bookstore in Austin, Texas the local economic impact was only $13. The same amount spent at locally based bookstores yielded $45, or more than three times the local economic impact. (Civic Economics, Austin Unchained October 2003)

A 2003 case study of Midcoast Maine covering several lines of goods and services validated these findings. In Maine eight locally owned businesses were surveyed. The survey found that the businesses spent 44.6 percent of their revenue within the surrounding two counties. Another 8.7 percent was spent elsewhere in the state of Maine. The four largest components of this local spending were: wages and benefits paid to local employees; goods and services purchased from other local businesses; profits that accrued to local owners and taxes paid to local and state government. All eight businesses banked locally, used local accountants, advertised in local businesses publications, purchased inventory from local manufacturers, and used local Internet service providers and repair people. The study estimated that a big box retailer returns just 14.1 percent of its revenue to the local economy, mostly in the form of payroll. The rest leaves the state, flowing to out-of-state suppliers and back to corporate headquarters. (The Economic Impact of Locally Owned Business vs. Chains: A Case Study in Midcoast Maine - New Rules Project, September 2003.)

We all support and count on doing business with people in our community, but what we don’t take the time to think about is how our community and ultimately our livelihood is affected when 85 percent of each retail dollar we spend at a national chain is sent somewhere out of state. Are we really “saving money” if our community’s retail dollars are not cycling back into our own local economy? Are we really “saving money” if our local merchants have to raise their prices in order to meet their overhead . . . or are forced to close their doors altogether due to lack of revenue? Are we really “saving money” if our local and state governments have to raise taxes or cut back on services that we wind up having to pay for?

I am getting ready to “re-stock” the pantry on Drummond and I know I can get cases of the things I need much “cheaper” down-state. But how much would I really save? Are my retail dollars ensuring that this community I have come to know and love continues to thrive? I, for one, know my quality of life would be greatly diminished if I couldn’t pop into the four corners for a bouquet of flowers, a sheet of plywood and the latest fashion magazine. And the members of this community have been truly blessed by merchants who have had the resources to donate to countless fundraisers.

We are blessed on Drummond with a variety of independent merchants of every kind. We might want to think about the greatest gift we can give both the community and ourselves . . . and the money we can “save” . . . by choosing to shop more in our own community.

“Examine each question in terms of what is ethically and aesthetically right, as well as what is economically expedient. A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” -Aldo Leopold

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