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Think Local First

| Written by Stacy Mitchell | No Comments | Updated on Jan 19, 2005 The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at http://www.ilsr.org/think-local-first/

Independent business owners in Portland, Oregon, and Grand Rapids, Michigan, have launched a multi-year educational campaigns to persuade residents to “think local first” when shopping.

“We’re looking to achieve a percentage change in behavior,” said Paul Needham, a founding board member of the Sustainable Business Network of Portland (SBNP), which organized the buy-local initiative. He explained that shifting just a small percentage of the dollars currently being spent at chain stores to local businesses would generate significant benefits for Portland’s economy, while substantially improving the survival rate of the city’s homegrown retailers.

(A recent study in Chicago found that spending $100 at locally owned businesses generates 58 percent more local economic impact than spending that same amount at national chain stores.)

SBNP kicked off the campaign on the Saturday following Thanksgiving, which the city officially proclaimed “Buy Local Day.” A celebration and press conference was held a Powell’s, Portland’s large and well-known independent bookstore.

So far, more than 70 businesses have joined the campaign. For a $60 fee, which is waived for members of SBNP, participating businesses receive a how-to kit that includes tips on promoting the campaign; a fact sheet on the top ten reasons to support local businesses; a poster; and a window decal with the campaign’s logo.

The logo features the Portland skyline and the slogan “Think Local ? Buy Local ? Be Local.” Both the logo and how-to kit are modeled on a similar initiative in Bellingham, Washington.

?We?re emphasizing that locally owned businesses form the backbone of a healthy local economy and help keep Portland neighborhoods unique,? said Lee Lancaster of the Food Front Cooperative Grocery, an SBNP member.

“The reaction has been very good,” said Needham. Think Local First has been covered in several local media outlets, including the daily Oregonian newspaper. Over the next year, SBNP hopes to recruit more businesses, start running print and radio ads, and explore ways to measure the impact of the campaign.

SBNP formed two years ago and is affiliated with the national Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE). The organization struggled and failed to grow during its first year as it tried to define itself within the context of Portland’s multitude of grassroots groups. Last year, SBNP decided to focus its energies almost exclusively on launching Think Local First, the success of which is now driving membership gains.

SBNP’s mission is to foster a sustainable economy by building a network of “triple-bottom-line” businesses. To join, businesses must not only be independent and locally owned, but must also operate in a socially and environmentally responsible manner.

Hot Lips Pizza is a good example. The local firm pays its employees a minimum of $10 an hour, compared to as little as $7 an hour a competing chains. It also purchases most of its ingredients from nearby farms. ?We?re an antidote to the bland, mediocre, and unsustainable business models proliferating today,? owner David Yudkin explained.

Meanwhile, another BALLE affiliate in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has also launched a buy-local campaign called Local First.

The centerpiece of the campaign is a well-designed, full-color local business directory that includes coupons, profiles of member businesses, and information on the benefits of supporting locally owned businesses. It notes, for example, “Local business owners are more likely to be socially connected and vested in our community.”

One particularly compelling part of the directory is a graphic image illustrating the findings of the Chicago study. A number of businesses in West Michigan now display copies of the graphic in their stores. It has also shown up in newspaper ads run by a citizens group fighting big-box development in the nearby town of Montague.

The initiative has struck a chord with residents, according to Rob McCarty, owner of The Image Shoppe and member of BALLE West Michigan. “There’s a lot of weight to the term ‘local’ right now in Grand Rapids. We’ve been especially hard hit by manufacturing losses.”

Local First has garnered extensive media coverage. “On the day after Thanksgiving, we were on every major news outlet in Grand Rapids,” said McCarty.

The organization, which now has about 80 members, hopes Local First will develop into a marketing brand for the area’s independent businesses, which are unable individually to compete with the chains’ big advertising muscle. To this end, BALLE West Michigan is encouraging members to incorporate the Local First logo into all of their own advertising.

In the next year, the group hopes to expand the campaign, recruit new members, hire an executive director, and begin purchasing supplies like office paper in bulk.

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About Stacy Mitchell

Stacy Mitchell is a senior researcher with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, where she directs initiatives on independent business and community banking. She is the author of Big-Box Swindle and also produces a popular monthly newsletter, the Hometown Advantage Bulletin.  Connect with her on twitter and catch her recent TEDx Talk: Why We Can’t Shop Our Way to a Better Economy. More

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