By Jim Hagerty
When Gorman & Company begins turning dirt on the downtown Embassy Suites hotel this summer, 372 local trades people are slated for immediate work, just in time for the summer building season.
The magnitude of the project will ensure that many of those jobs will be secure for approximately two years. That means there will be more people downtown out of the gate, helping local businesses grab an important sector of the market usually serviced by corporate merchants in other areas of town.
It’s not that the chain-store allure isn’t a powerful one. It has been a Rockford trend since the corridor east of Rockford University became even more ensconced in chic suburbia. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Urban chic is beginning to look pretty good in Rockford’s downtown.
The question is, can either be attained with sustainable local businesses fighting against absentee-owned giants that ship most of their revenue out of town? The answer is simple in Rockford. Developers score big with national tenants who return the favor.
Consumers are marketed and branded to death until they succumb to perceived deals of the century. But even the biggest of boxes are shedding more brick and mortar for Amazon-ish models that allow them to appeal to a younger, more streamlined generation of online shoppers.
Surprisingly though, the little guy can compete in that arena. In fact, independent business owners who know their market do well while others inexplicably tread water. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
While small business owners are forever forced to be more entrepreneurial, simple concepts of serving local markets with quality, service and personality are still front and center.
“People still want professional attention to detail,” Mark Adamany, of Adamany Art & Design and Adamany Cleaning Co., said.”Independent companies are often small and take care of their people better than companies with hundreds of employees.”
And there is always the issue of price versus value. After all, time is money more than ever in the automated 21st century. Consumers seek instant gratification with the click of a button, and will forgo quality and other intangibles, sometimes without even realizing what they’re missing.
“It is nice to use the local guy to get the expertise,” Adamany said. “For example, I go to Nicholson Hardware whenever I can because they know what they’re talking about.”
Still, small businesses continue to close. And the result is catastrophic for the communities they served. It’s what often occurs when restrictions and ordinances hogtie other independents from filling the void, leaving them wide open for politically favored corporations with big promises of jobs and civic involvement. Yet most mega companies cost more local jobs than they create.
In examining the superstore model, it’s difficult to avoid its facial appeal. Because lawyers, accountants, insurance brokers, trade workers and contractors are a must; it’s almost always more economical for a company to employ them instead of outsourcing to local businesses. This slashes the number of local makers and devalues the ones that remain.
Conversely, a model where local doctors, lawyers, insurance agents and shopkeepers buy and sell from each other, keeps is much more viable.
Each dollar spent with an independent business generates around four times as much local wealth than dollars spent with chain-owned outsiders. This concept comprises three parts – direct, indirect, and induced impact.
Direct impact represents dollars spent locally on business expenses. Indirect impact occurs when those dollars re-circulate through the community. Finally, induced impact is realized when business owners, their employees and others spend money locally.
“It is important for money to come back to the community in which we live,” said Culture Shock’s Skylar Davis. “The more makers we have, the more attractive we are to other cities and states.
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