buylocalTHE MULTIPLIER EFFECT—no, not the latest Hollywood holiday fluff-fest replete with soulless characters, derivative plot points and vapid action, but a sensible way of reckoning the recyclic power of buying local to energize communities—yes, the classic “what goes around comes around.” As BALLE cofounder Michael Shuman writes in The Small-Mart Revolution: How Local Businesses Are Beating the Global Competition, “The future of small business, the future of community vitality and the future of humanity depend on a fundamentally new approach to our local economies. The challenge is to find ways to nurture competitive local alternatives to Wal-Mart that can revitalize our local economies and communities.”

And with the holiday season upon us, what better time to—if you haven’t already— shop and buy local, and keep your cash, and attendant goodwill, recirculating in your community. So rev up that actions-speak-louder-than-words multiplier effect, it’s small-mart time! And I promise no descents into the vagaries of zero-sums and game theory, trade deficits, WTO WTF?!, China, India or, for that matter, droll laissez-faire Milton Friedmanesque market

“TURNING DOLLARS AROUND LOCALLY [through recirculation] will help to limit the amount of dollars flowing out of the region and be a stabilizing influence,” says Billy Ray Hall, president of the North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center in Raleigh, as quoted in a recent Christian Science Monitor piece. “But it’s when you sprinkle entrepreneurship into the mix and have a commitment to grow businesses locally that you have a sustainable base.” So you need smarts, some demonstrable business acumen in the mix, to battle the big boxes and chains—those that rely on slick national advertising and low, low prices as ultimate enticement—that’s the carrot; the stick comes later when the lucre is siphoned out of town back to corporate headquarters. Merely hanging a BUY LOCAL sign, then, isn’t enough.

Educating consumers, raising awareness of the importance of buying local, which can be achieved by banding together with like-minded businesses (even if you consider them competitors), is a highly recommended strategy for battling the big guys. Many towns and cities have “buy local” or “think local” organizations that can pool resources, hatch joint marketing plans and bazooka out shared PR efforts. Check the American Independent Business Alliance website to see if there’s a branch near you; same with the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies. Also, talk to your business and community neighbors, engage in social media (who, for instance, is tweeting with a “buy local” hashtag in your area?), interact and converse wherever and whenever you can—forge those connections that are the cornerstone of community.

Local FirstHere in Portland, Oregon, the Sustainable Business Network (SBN) launched a “Think Local First” marketing campaign five years ago to support independent, locally owned businesses (its focus today is “Local First: Choose locally owned businesses”). “This program,” the SBN website explains, “enhances the livability of our community, the stability and diversity of the local economy, and the retention and expansion of independent, locally owned businesses through increasing awareness about the personal, community, and economic benefits of choosing local first.” Choose Local (not associated with SBN), which covers four Oregon cities to date, provides a free loyalty discount card that can be used at a wide variety of local businesses (discounts tend to be 10 percent to 15 percent).

In addition to the tourist-centric Made in Oregon stores, Local Goods opened in Portland this September, its focus on locally made, sustainable products offered at a fair price—if you live hereabouts, it’s well worth a trip to East Burnside to take a look. This is merely the tip of the iceberg lettuce—get out there and explore; the Alliance of Portland Neighborhood Business Associations’ website and  Green America‘s National Green Pages are highly recommended jumping-off points.

Simple, fresh, slow, organic, sustainable … and local. When it comes to food (and Green Dynamind has covered the topic in “Back to the Garden” and “A Paean to Organic Agriculture, Oregon Style”), food miles are an additional concern—that is, the distance food travels from its origin to point of sale, which sadly is increasing. Buying local entirely obviates this issue, of course, and is gaining momentum, both locally and nationally. Cost and availability are still major challenges, unfortunately, to be overcome in numerous locations. In Oregon, where we have a plethora of farmers’ markets, CSAs, wineries and breweries, as well as grocers and restaurants that passionately buy local, the Oregon Environmental Council has set up a handy website of resources for buying locally grown food. “Buy local” has certainly made purposeful strides when it comes to food, it’s a trend in ascent, albeit bottom-line price will continue to be a major factor in regards to many family budgets.

Consider these points, and share them, when it comes to buying local (adapted from a list in Green Festival Reader: Fresh Ideas from Agents of Change and at Sustainable Connections, the Bellingham, Washington, chapter of BALLE):

  • More money recirculates in the local economy when purchases are made at locally owned businesses.
  • Nonprofits receive greater support from locally owned businesses.
  • Unique businesses help create a distinctive spirit of place.
  • Local businesses have a reduced environmental impact.
  • Most new jobs are provided by local businesses; green jobs can be a sizable part of this.
  • Customer service and support are superior at local businesses.
  • Local business owners invest in the local community.
  • Public benefits far outweigh public costs.
  • Competition and diversity lead to more choices.
  • Supporting local enterprise encourages local investment (and don’t forget local financial-service opportunities like credit unions and community banks).

Super-Rich coverOne last shout out for small-mart (v. Wal-Mart) I’d like to share comes from Ralph Nader’s utopian joyride of an doctrine-stuffed novel, Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! (and not, alas, from Stephen King’s dystopian trapped-community-goes-homicidally-wild parable, Under the Dome!):

“The general objective is to turn Wal-Mart into a pull-up giant instead of a pull-down behemoth outsourcing its suppliers to China, hollowing out communities, offloading its responsibilities to its workers onto the American taxpayer, and driving its competitors to break their labor agreements and downgrade wages and benefits. Otherwise the vast Wal-Mart sub-economy will keep metastasizing and depress the standard of living for millions of American workers. This is not the way our economy grew in the past.” (See our “How the Light Gets In” for more on righting the wrongs of the “new bad economy.”)

’Tis always the season to shop and buy local first.


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