Connecting Communities

Organizations encourage consumers to buy local whenever possible to keep money circulating and bring jobs to the local economy.


Buy local movements are nothing new. In fact, they’ve been sprouting up all over the country for at least 20 years. Proponents hope that banding together and trying to get people to keep their money local will help create a sustainable local economy and create their own economic stimulus program.

In New Mexico, the buy local effort is helping to shield some small businesses from the economic downturn and preserve jobs as well.

“We have over 4,500 businesses registered in Santa Fe and of them, 85 percent of them are locally-owned and independent,” said Vicki Pozzebon from the Santa Fe Alliance. “They are our largest employer collectively. They are really our economic engine. They are the ones that are paying a higher wage. A lot of them choose to pay a higher starting wage plus benefits.”

By choosing to buy local, you have the power to strengthen and enrich your community. Independent businesses are unique enterprises that contribute to the character of your community by offering a more diverse selection of goods and services, according to Kimber Lanning of Local First Arizona. “You get that personal touch and a real sense of place and feel like you’re a part of your community,” Lanning said.

Lanning founded Local First Arizona in 2003 after getting tired of watching the homogenization of areas around the state. “The organization grew so fast, we currently have about 1,700 members and are the largest dues paying coalition out there,” she said. “I’ve always had civic pride and I’ve always chosen to buy local. I thought that I could help these people get connected. The idea was to pool money and create an online database. The more that I learned about the economics of what was going on, the more involved I wanted to get. Our children may not have the opportunity to have decent jobs here. We could become a service industry state.”

There are several ways that the public can get involved at the grassroots level in supporting the buy local movement, Pozzebon added. “First off, they can always tell their retailer or service provider that they choose to buy locally. That has an immediate impact where the owner can say thank you for choosing me. You can also say ‘Ok, we have like-minded people in the community, what can we do to call upon our leaders. The two national organizations, the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) and the American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA), also provide resources that could prove helpful.”

In Bellingham, Wash. they’ve taken the buy local idea one step further. In April 2002, Sustainable Connections signed up its first business member with early programs that focused on connecting values-aligned businesses, and taking individual steps—“pledges”—to improve the sustainability of member businesses.

Today, they offer five programs including: Sustainable Business Development – Building the number and prosperity of local businesses that creatively address environmental and societal changes, Think Local First – Increasing awareness about the personal, community and economic benefits of choosing local, independently owned businesses first, Food & Farming – Supporting and building a sustainable local food system in Northwest Washington, Green Building & Smart Growth – Promoting healthy, durable, efficient, and environmentally responsible places to live, play and work, and Energy Efficiency & Renewables – Encouraging green power purchasing, energy efficiency, and increased local renewable energy infrastructure.

Executive Director Michelle Long said the one reason they’ve been successful is because they have reciprocity there. “People care about this place and we help them take action to care about this place,” she said. “I think that people who want to start a similar organization to ours need to think about who they have at the center of what they are forming. You’ve got to have successful, credible, values-aligned people. If you’re trying to influence local business owners, you need to find out what they need.”

Sustainable Connections also offers workshops in the local communities on building an organization like theirs.

For more information about organizing your own buy local movement, visit livingeconomies.org, amiba.net, or ilsr.org. —Lynn Celmer

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