Saturday, January 31, 2009

Buying Local has a Big Impact

By Tom Campbell, from the Durham Herald-Sun, 27 Jan 2009

Bob Ashley, in his recent column, "Buy local? Sure, but not always," said that "while I applaud and respect many of the motivations of the "buy-local" movement, I worry that, like many good ideas, it can be carried to the extreme."

While I understand the point that Ashley was making, I have to say that from the perspective of an owner of one of the dwindling number of locally owned, independent businesses in the area, it's hard to see, in practical terms, how "buying local" could actually be carried too far.

Gone are the days when folks around here had lots of locally owned choices for things like hardware stores, food stores, shoe stores, clothing stores, print shops, business supply stores, pharmacies, etc. Trying to survive in the Durham area today by just buying local would be a very tough go indeed.

But the motto of the shop local movement isn't "Shop Local Only."

It's "Shop Local First." And what it really means is "Think Local First" -- take a moment before you buy something and ask yourself if there's a local source of whatever it is you are looking for.

Thinking local first also means giving some thought to the benefits that flow from shopping local. Independent businesses make for a more vibrant and varied local culture. A greater sense of community. And they help keep a lot more of our money at work here in our hometown.

Why? Because a lot more of the money you spend at a locally owned business stays (and re-circulates) in our local community. Take my business for example. All of our employees live here. Our back office is in the back of the store, not in New York or Shanghai. We buy almost all of our supplies locally. Most of the taxes we pay stay in Durham and North Carolina. We bank locally. And we don't send dividend checks or inflated CEO salaries off to another state, or another country.

A recent study in Grand Rapids, Mich., found that a modest change in consumer behavior -- a mere 10 percent shift in market share to independent businesses from chain stores -- would result in 1,600 new jobs, $53 million in wages, and a $137 million economic impact to that area. If this 10 percent shift were to happen in Durham, (a smaller city than Grand Rapids), the impact would be something like 800 jobs, $20 million in annual wages, and $60 million a year in increased economic activity.

There's no escaping the fact that we live in a global economy. And for a lot of reasons the global end of things has been running rampant lately, driving local business to the brink. Some of this has to do with efficiencies, but a lot of it also has to do with access to capital, exchange rates, and things like the financial backing needed to sign a lease at most shopping malls.

But we also live in a very specific (and I think very remarkable) place. And supporting a little local balance to the global giants can only be a good thing for this place we call home -- and, really, for the global economy as well.

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