“Every day we get to choose if we want to spend our dollars on big box retailers and throw it away,” says Steve Ramsey of RelyLocal. [Because] that money goes out of the community forever – and it’s not coming back.”
Ramsey is one of thousands in a “Think Shop Buy Local” movement, which has grown exponentially in the last ten years. “Buy Local”-type networks doubled between 2005 – 2009 according to Bloomberg Businessweek, and the Internet is full of nonprofits eager to assist businesses in starting their own associations.
The key concept is that when residents keep their resources within a community (money they’d have to spend anyway, for everything from groceries to clothes to home decor) by dealing with local businesses, their actions enhance the lives of everyone in town.
There seems to be an impulse to do just this. A June 2012 a poll by American Planning Association showed that when asked what people wanted in a community, the highest priority listed was “local businesses.”
“Buying locally isn’t about spending; it’s about investing,” says Ramsey. “According to our $20 Shift Calculator the Salem/Keizer area’s population of 390,000 could have an annual impact of over 53 MILLION dollars if every adult just shifted $20 of their existing/current monthly spending back into the local community.”
A brainstorming session nearly three years ago was the start of the Buy Local program developed by local Maps Credit union. The initial intention was, according to Jamie Young, Maps Business Development Officer, “to determine how we could encourage our members to support local area businesses and in turn offer a unique program that gave our members extra benefit.”
Beginning with the Web alone, Maps expanded to adding inserts to monthly mailings and placing printed coupons in each of the branches. Most recently, a Buy Local Scavenger Hunt encouraged Maps members to visit its partners.
“The members who have used the program are excited that Maps is encouraging people to support local business,” Young says. “They’re appreciative of the offers that help them discover new businesses. Maps business partners, at the same time, are grateful for the opportunity to reach the Maps field of membership.”
Strikingly, Maps actually reimburses businesses for some of their freebie expenses. Young says “It is an added bonus that allows for them to entice people with a ‘free’ offer without their bottom line being greatly impacted.”
Maps received a 2012 Best Practices award from the premier national trade association for credit unions (CMBDC) for its Buy Local program. Describing the reason for the award, the trade association said, “The success of the program can be seen in the 10% increase in participating businesses in 2011, a 95% renewal rate for 2012, increased web site traffic on the Buy Local page and approximately $2,500 infused into the local business community.”
Rely Local is another venture with a similar goal. RelyLocal was started by Steve Ramsey, from Bend, and his to-be-business-partner when they met a few years ago, as complete strangers in a coffee shop.
“Within an hour,” Ramsey says, “a general idea had evolved exponentially… Within a week, a business model and test market had been launched… Within the first year, over 120 RelyLocal chapters had launched across the country, creating over 300 new jobs in about 550 cities, supporting tens of thousands of local businesses.”
The RelyLocal site is owned and run by local community leaders. It helps folks locate local businesses, print savings coupons – even find jobs in the Salem-Keizer area. It emphasizes the central importance of local shopping.
“But it’s not about them,” says Ramsey, “it’s about us. It’s about the community. Because every time we spend money in a local business it goes further into local economic impact like jobs and wages and business development not to mention the cultural impact from local businesses volunteering and philanthropy.”
It’s a concept organized labor understands.
“Buying Local is a Union issue,” says Sara Fallion, Service Employees International Union #503 of Marion County, “because buying local is one of the best ways to create jobs right here in Salem!”
SEIU is sponsoring a Cash Mob on June 30 at the Marion County Courthouse at 10:00am. The union wanted to act in a positive way to note that the Marion County Employee Association (MCEA Local 294) contract expires on that day.
The idea emerged from using union collective power to support local businesses, educate members about the power of buying local, and provide an opportunity to educate the public about the impact of good jobs and a strong middle class on the local economy.
After a few speakers and a skit, SEIU will encourage members and supporters to shop, eat lunch or browse at businesses downtown. SEIU members are collecting names of local businesses they’d like the group to target with their dollars. Participants are to return at about 1:00 to report back on how it went.
“Quite simply, when people buy local, Fallion says, it keeps more money in our community to help pay for the important services we as union members provide, things like teachers, firefighters, roads & infrastructure, and public health and safety. Providing those important services is how our members make a living,”
Out of the Occupy movement, Oregon Peaceworks and other Salem businesses are developing a “Locally Owned Salem Area Business” organization.
Peter Bergel with OPW echoes the passion of all those involved in the movement when he says, “The importance of “Locally Owned” is to benefit the entire Salem community by taking charge of the power we have.
We give so much away, now, to people who use it in other communities. Buy Local feels that our money should work for us, not against us. We can keep money in our community. If we think about our choice, it’s an easy one to make. If we don’t, they we forgo even our choice.”