Surely by now you’ve heard me talk about local this, local that, eat local, go local, Yay! local, everything local, local, local. My friends are a little tired of it, even mocking me by sending me a cartoon of a couple witches on Halloween stirring up a big witches’ brew caldron with a quote that read: “I only use local children.” Ha-ha. Yes, I believe in local. And by now, you probably know why. Local is us: It’s you and me, and our economy. I do believe that local matters.
This year, the Santa Fe Alliance is taking a break from winter programming to focus on strategic planning because now is the time in our lifespan to look deep into our own work and continue to do the things that have the greatest and most lasting impact. Instead of asking you to participate in our Buy Local Bowl and shop till you drop for two hours on a Saturday to prove that local shopping works, we’re asking you to help us create jobs this holiday season. “Wait, what?” I hear you asking. “What’s my dollar got to do with creating jobs?”
We’ve decided to participate in a campaign that, for the first time in our organization’s history, is a national campaign partnership among the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, the American Independent Business Alliance and about 100 other local economy and independent business alliances across the country, just like Santa Fe Alliance. This is an exciting time for our movement because never before has there been such a nationally coordinated effort targeted at consumers by grassroots organizations like ours. And we want you to participate in it: Shift Your Shopping. Choose locally owned independent businesses this holiday season for all your needs. And continue to do it all year long. Pretty simple concept.
What’s different about it this year is that we are talking about job creation in our regions too. Not only does your money stay in our local economy for things like parks (and we have some beautiful ones!), libraries, first responders, our schools; it will create much-needed jobs too. The National Retail Federation reports that holiday shoppers plan to spend an average of $704.18 on holiday gifts and seasonal merchandise in 2011. That’s a lot of money to most people. And if you consider that when you put $704.18 into locally-owned businesses it will multiply up to four times in our local economy, that means you could put $2816.72 to work in our local economy. There are numerous studies showing that directing spending to locally owned, independent businesses will have great impacts. For example, a 2008 study of Kent County Michigan by Civic Economics projected shifting 10% of the county’s per capita spending from chains to locally-owned independent businesses would create nearly $140 million in new economic activity and 1,600 new jobs for the region. Yes, I said NEW. Now imagine those numbers going to work in our own region.
There are so many moving parts to a local economy I can see people’s heads spin when I talk about it. Eat local. Buy local. Move your money. (Thanks to Occupy Wall Street this not-so-new-idea went global and encouraged thousands of people to shift their money. Over 650,000 people moved $4.5 billion between October and November, according to the Credit Union National Association.) And maybe you’ve heard of Small Business Saturday, which is a campaign effort by American Express to get you to support small businesses for your holiday shopping. I can get on board with this concept—for about a minute. I appreciate their effort to get the masses to engage in the economy. But my question is this: How will you know if your hard earned dollars at this “small business” are going to a local owner unless you ask the questions, “Are you family owned? Are you locally owned? Are you a franchise?” The Amex campaign doesn’t help you, the consumer, understand the difference. Shift Your Shopping does. Amex wants you to go spend your money at a small business and please, use your credit card while you’re at it, and if it’s an Amex card, well, that’s even better! But what you might not know, Mr. Consumer, is that Amex charges the highest processing rates of all the credit card companies. Every time you pull out your Amex so you can get more miles, you are costing a small business owner sometimes up to 8% on a sale. What you might not know is that Amex negotiates their rates on a business-to-business basis, which can result in big box stores and large retailers getting much lower rates than smaller companies and locally owned businesses. (For more info on this check out www.truecostofcredit.com.) Is that how you want to support your locally owned independent businesses? Paying in cash is obviously more sustainable for your business-owner neighbor and for your wallet. I’m not telling you to cut up your credit cards or be unrealistic; I’m asking you to think about where you want your money to go when it leaves your wallet. Shifting Your Shopping can shift your thinking.
But back to the question of “local.” The Santa Fe Alliance has established guidelines of what local means to us, and unlike a massive credit card company, we have nothing to gain from our campaign, except a stronger local economy. We are not profiting from your hard-earned dollars. Instead, our entire community benefits when we ask you to Shift Your Shopping. We help you understand what the local economy is by defining what locally owned really means. Local businesses are defined as those located in Santa Fe or adjoining counties. For retail businesses this is straightforward, but for other types of businesses it may not be so clear-cut. For example, including our local farmers often requires a broader geographic definition. Many of these farms, while situated away from Santa Fe’s nucleus, are located within our northern New Mexico “food shed.”
Sometimes determining which businesses are independently owned can be difficult. What about a locally owned fast-food franchise? Or an insurance agent with a national company and a local office? Many businesses participate in cooperative marketing, offer exclusive lines, and have all sorts of other business agreements. We define a locally owned business as one where the community member has full autonomy and decision-making authority with respect to his or her business practices. An owner with decision-making authority can:
• choose to purchase goods and services from other locally owned businesses, increasing the economic return of every dollar for the community
• change his/herbusiness practices to respond to the social and environmental needs and desires of the community
• promote his/her business in ways that maintain the unique character of a specific community
• communicate directly with members of the community on a day-to-day basis
Where you spend your money matters. Now that you have your list of what local really means you can help your friends understand it too. Spread the word to friends and family all over the country. They might just have an independent business alliance in their community too. Shift Your Shopping and choose locally owned independents this holiday season and all year long. Think of it as a great, big, meaningful, green and sustainable gift to our local economy when you Shift Your Shopping.
Happy Holidays from the Santa Fe Alliance.
For more information, visit www.ShiftYourShopping.org, and don’t forget to pick up the Local Guide, available at Santa Fe Alliance member businesses.
Vicki Pozzebon is Executive Director of the Santa Fe Alliance, a nonprofit organization working toward building a local living economy through community, local ownership and advocacy. www.santafealliance.com