The Power of Local
Community organizing is the path to survival.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
In the modern world, where it takes a minute – or a keystroke – to connect with someone continents away, we’ve become comfortable with the idea of a global community. Our “marketplace” has gotten larger and we’re no longer surprised to find exotic fruit at our grocery or shocked to find packaged meat from far away. We know many of our products come from China, Thailand or South America. And many of us aren’t fazed by buying products online from virtual stores whose employees we’ll never meet.
But a new sense of community is emerging – or re-emerging – and has begun to drive thinking about economy and consumer choices. Informed by the tenets of sustainability, ideas about “small economies” are hard to ignore, especially at a time when the activities of large corporations have caused untold financial, and sometimes environmental, damage. Accountability is always easier when the business owner lives in your community. “Community” begins at the local level – where we live, eat and play, where our children build lifelong friendships, where our memories are made. Where we live our lives.
ACCOUNTABILITY IS ALWAYS EASIER WHEN THE BUSINESS OWNER LIVES IN YOUR COMMUNITY.
As we walk past more and more empty storefronts, it’s easy to forget the families who – through that storefront – once contributed to our community. For every $100 spent at that storefront, $68 went back into the community, money spent at local restaurants, markets, retailers and the offices of local service providers. When money is spent locally, it feeds the local economy – keeping the entire community healthy and thriving.
But living locally doesn’t necessarily mean drawing the lines of division between “us” and “them.” We can live locally while still living as global citizens.
At a time when major economic decisions are being made at the federal level and the “big guys” are being either culled or saved with infusions of cash, circulating cash locally can be a powerful way to regain control of our economic health. By acting locally, we can help lessen the blow of trickle-down disasters into our daily lives. Nurturing local businesses with our patronage is more powerful than most people think. Just as we learned how powerful our votes can be this election season, our buying power is influential in shaping our futures.
The greatest example of consumer-driven change is the organic food movement. While we can only get certain foods from faraway places, many of our daily food items are produced locally – and often we do have a choice. The organic food movement has grown to a national phenomenon. Why? Because consumers were conscious about how their food is processed and started supporting local small farms that adhered to healthier and more sustainable practices.
Conscious consumer spending can directly affect the growth of local businesses and industries and even create ripple effects nationally. Locally, the diversity and uniqueness of products can truly be affected by consumer demand. A multitude of small businesses, each selecting products based not on a national sales plan but on their own interests and the needs of their local customers, guarantees a much broader range of choices.
Local needs drive entrepreneurship, which has always been at the heart of the U.S. economy – small businesses represent 99.7 percent of the country’s firms and generated 60 to 80 percent of net new jobs annually over the last decade, according to the Small Business Administration. The power of local is not a new concept.
Retail shopping isn’t the only way to keep money circulating locally. Don’t forget that services are a significant part of small businesses. On the Peninsula, the hospitality industry holds a substantial share of the local economy. While many people travel during the holiday season, locals can choose to stay home and support our hotels, restaurants, spas and recreation providers. This community doesn’t have to sit by helplessly while the occupancy numbers of hotels and the reservations at restaurants decline. The idea of “staycations” is spreading all over the country. The value of enjoying “home” is sometimes greater than leaving town. Not only is the experience less stressful for the traveler, but the money helps make our local economy more robust.
In 2009, the Monterey Peninsula Chamber of Commerce is launching its Power of Local campaign to raise public awareness about how powerful consumer choices can be. Incentive and discount cards and public education programs are coming. But with the holiday shopping season already here, this is the perfect time to mold ourselves into conscious community consumers. ROSHI PEJHAN works at the Monterey Peninsula Chamber of Commerce and with its Sustainability Committee. For information about the Power of Local campaign, contact firstname.lastname@example.org