Why Local Matters

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Tompkins Weekly     10-17-16

By Jan Rhodes Norman

I love where I live! Here in Ithaca, in the heart of the Finger Lakes, we are blessed with great natural beauty and a vibrant local living economy made up of local, independently owned businesses, family farms, educational institutions and active community organizations. It’s a rich, diverse culture with a strong local identity and one that Local First Ithaca is dedicated to protecting and strengthening.

Local First Ithaca is part of a nationwide movement. We advocate a new approach to sustainable, community economic development based on local ownership of community assets such as sustainable agriculture, independent media, renewable energy, green building, zero waste manufacturing, community capital and independent retail- building what is called a “Living Economy.”

We envision local-first-ithaca-logoa sustainable global economy as a network of Local Living Economies, building long-term economic empowerment and prosperity in communities through locally owned business, economic justice, cultural diversity and a healthy natural environment. This allows us to preserve an authentic sense of place, supporting the restoration and redevelopment of neighborhoods and preserving one-of-a-kind businesses that help create the unique character of this place we call home.

When you spend your dollars at an independent, local business, you keep more money in your hometown – supporting your community’s schools, social services, your public library and local non-profits. Locally-owned businesses return about 80 percent of each dollar to their community. And each dollar spent at a local business will return up to five times that amount within your community through city taxes, employees’ wages, and purchases of materials, supplies and services at other independent businesses. Local ownership also ensures that important decisions are made locally, by people who live in the community and who will feel the impacts of those decisions.

Chains and franchises, on the other hand, contribute roughly 20-40 percent of sales back to the community. And many big box stores are given tax-incentives by local governments – costing us far more than the discounted price we think we’re paying.

A recent study drives home the potential impact of shopping at locally owned businesses, whatever the season. A 2008 Grand Rapids, Michigan, survey found that a slight shift in purchasing behavior, diverting just 10 percent of purchases in Kent County from national chains to locally owned businesses, would create 1,600 new jobs and yield nearly $137 million in economic output, spread among many industries, not just retail.

Imagine the difference we could make in our own community with a 5-10 percent shift in purchases. It’s not about buying more, it’s about the power of choice. Every time we make a purchase, we’re exercising our power to choose what kind of community we want to live in. Especially during this time of economic uncertainty, where we spend our money really does matter.

At a time when we have spent hundreds of billions of dollars bailing out large financial institutions who profited from a “Wall Street” economy that rewarded unrealistic speculation and encouraged people to assume unmanageable levels of debt, the most important reason to support “Main Street” is that our local businesses provide real goods and real services right here in our own community. In our local economy, customers are not consumers but rather friends, fellow citizens and neighbors.

We realize it’s not always possible to buy what you need locally so we just ask that you Think Local First! We can all make a difference with a few simple steps:

  • Whenever possible, make a choice to patronize locally-owned businesses.
  • Pick two or three items that you use regularly and find local sources for them.
  • When you shop online with out-of-state companies, it doesn’t contribute a dime to the local economy. Check out local businesses that offer the same products.
  • During the holiday season, take the Local Lover Challenge! Look for the Local Lover Challenge poster or go to LocalFirstIthaca.org to find the list of participating businesses.
  • Support your local farmers markets.
  • Choose a local bank or creditunion for your financial needs.
  • Tell friends and family about the importance of thinking Local First.

Most of all, have fun and feel good that your community is benefiting by your choosing to shop with local businesses, especially when those businesses make & sell products that come from right here in our own backyard. Search out some local shops you’ve never been in, see what great things they have to offer, ask to meet the owner and say: “Hi, neighbor.”

 Jan Rhodes Norman is owner of Ithacamade and Silk Oak, and the co-founder of Local First Ithaca.



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