Buy local, start today!

By Karen King
Owner, Choices Natural Market

April 1, along with Frank Schier, editor and publisher of the Rock River Times, I attended a workshop at the University of Wisconsin at Madison about starting a local business network. The workshop was presented by the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE). BALLE is North America’s fastest-growing network of socially-responsible businesses, composed of more than 80 community networks with more than 21,000 independent business members across the U.S. and Canada.

Starting an organization that supports local businesses and educates our community about the importance of supporting locally-owned businesses is something that has been gnawing at me for quite some time now.

An organization such as this differs from the Chamber of Commerce, in that it only allows locally owned businesses to become members and provides support to them through marketing and education. Organizations like this are popping up all over the county.

Several years ago, Madison, Wis., started an organization called “Dane Buy Local.” Dane Buy Local supports businesses whose owners reside in Dane County, through marketing and education to the community about the importance of buying from locally-owned businesses vs. big box stores and national companies, whose goals are not always in the best interest of the community. One of my favorite things about Dane Buy Local is their Web site, which you can go to if you are looking for a particular product. You can search by category, product, etc., and find member businesses that carry the product or service you want.

This is a great tool for the socially-conscientious consumer like myself, who prefers to support local businesses rather than a business whose headquarters and owners are in some other state or country. I would much rather my dollars go to a business whose owners live down the street or whose children attend the same school as my own.

This workshop, and Frank’s support, is just the thing I needed to get started on this important project. Did you realize that when you spend money at a locally-owned business, a much greater portion remains in the community than if you were to spend it at a “big box” store or nationally-owned company? That’s right, I’m not talking about chump change here, I’m talking about a serious amount of money—a stream of dollars that can really make a difference!

One study, conducted by the Institute for Local Self Reliance, found that out of $100 spent at a locally-owned business, $45 remained in the community, compared to only $14 when consumers spent their $100 at a big box store. They also concluded that the charitable donations of locally-owned business were four times greater compared to Target and Wal-mart’s community contributions.

Think about that for a minute. $45 vs. $14, and four times the amount going to local charities! That’s a pretty significant difference that can really add up! Studies consistently show there is a much greater impact on our communities from locally-owned businesses, from things like hiring more full-time employees and offering benefits, to lower unemployment rates in communities that have a good support system for locally-owned businesses.

Every dollar makes a difference! Vote with your dollar and help build a sustainable local economy. Let’s support each other and grow our community together.

One big way you can help with this is by  coming to the conference of creating the  Rock River Trail for hiking, biking, kayaking and canoeing. The Rock River runs through the 10 counties and 33 towns and cities in Wisconsin and Illinois—talk about a potential “buy local” network! “Getting to Know Ourselves, Re-Discovering the Rock River: An exploration, inventory, assessment and declaration of the Rock River Trail” will take place April 16 and 17 at The Best Western Clock Tower Conference Center and CoCo Key Water Resort. For more information see the ads on pages A8 and C7.

As the ad says, from “1:30-4:30 p.m., on April 16, Rick Brooks, Outreach Program Manager for Professional Development & Applied Studies at UW-Madison, will present a workshop on: ‘Supporting Local Business and a Sustainable Quality of Life.’ These days, building local and regional ‘living economy’ involves more than merely attracting new employers. Locally owned businesses provide the majority of jobs, products and services, support the activities that enhance our quality of life and make the Rock River area unique. Independent businesses that employ green practices and understand sustainability are now becoming key elements in the picture. This workshop will offer practical strategies for businesses to ‘walk the talk’ of people, planet and profit: tools to reduce energy use (and bills!), offer healthy choices to employees and customers, manage waste and much more. Forming local and regional alliances can make all the difference. Start Here. Come Here. Celebrate Our Unique Sense of Place By Integrating Green Practices. ‘Green’ businesses may bring to mind the old—and false—divisions between environmentalists and profit-oriented enterprise. But sustainable business alliances throughout the country are demonstrating that the new economy opens new opportunities if we support each other. Practical tools for green purchasing, energy and waste management, air and water quality and related topics are rapidly becoming part of good business. How can we capitalize on our natural assets while revitalizing the local economy? Learn by example how it works for each business and the community as a whole through the Green Exchange.”

Best of all, all this knowledge is presented at no cost through the sponsorship of The Rock River Times, Friends of the Rock River, River District Association, Native American Awareness Committee, the July 31 Rock River Sweep, Winnebago County Green Business Awards and Clock Tower Conference Center & CoCo Key Water Resort.

The next day, April 17, Saturday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., we’re going to canoe the Rock from Oregon to Grand Detour, and everyone is invited to the wrap-up session for your input back at the Clock Tower from 3 to 4 p.m., followed by a great social hour at the Sun Dial Restaurant.

Hope to see you there, and remember to “buy local!” That includes your vacation money. In these tough times, explore eco-tourism right on your own backyard waterway, the Rock River and the new Rock River Trail! Spending your money with our resident business folks makes a better quality of life for us all—right now. Let’s have some affordable, sustainable fun right here in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. It’s our river; let’s meet and enjoy our neighbors and discover their great attractions.

Frank Schier also contributed to this article.

From the April 7-13, 2010 issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!