I'm not an economist. In fact, I received a D+ in the macro-economics class I took at Michigan State. I attribute it to the following: it was an 8 a.m. class; class had 600+ students; my study partner was funny so we did more laughing that studying; and the professor had a thick Russian accent which left me daydreaming about James Bond movies most of the class period. Although the D+ brought down my grade point average, I'm able to understand the basics about our local economy and how the changing world impacts our community.
Few will argue against the fact that supporting local business is important. A thriving local economy is something people look for when they're thinking about relocating (either personally or professionally), whether they think about it consciously or not. There are many great formalized programs that encourage you to shop local like Small Business Saturday and The 3/50 Project. These are great for getting people to think about supporting local business but everyday behaviors make the biggest impact and we shouldn't wait for a special day or program to get out and contribute. As a community we perpetually complain about a number of problems that could easily be eliminated if we loyally supported the environment we live in.
Northeast Michigan really is blessed and virtually anything you need or want can be found here. Don't automatically assume that you can't. Don't let "Small Town Syndrome" (Not a real medical term, I just made it up) cloud your judgment. Just because we are considered a "small town" doesn't mean our residents don't have talent, or that our local shops will never have what you want, or that the service you need won't be found here. I recently heard that a locally appointed government group not only went out of town, but also out of state, to contract services for something that could have been found locally. To be fair, I don't know all the details. But I do know that local businesses weren't even given a chance to bid. I find that to be somewhat of an insult to our local professionals.
My husband and I make a point to shop local as often as we can. We also encourage others to do the same. We try not to guilt people into buying local or chastise those who don't. We live in a global economy. We live in an internet driven society. We have more options than any other point in history for everything under the sun. It is irrational to believe that every dollar every person makes in Northeast Michigan will stay in Northeast Michigan. Sometimes what you want isn't available. Maybe you received horrible customer service. Sometimes your budget can't afford it. These may be justifiable reasons for shopping elsewhere but you can still make an impact in other areas.
How can you help create a thriving local economy? Here are some over-simplified calculations. The city of Alpena has about 10,000 residents. If each resident spent just an extra $5 per week locally that would be an extra $2.6 million infused into our local economy in one year. See how a little bit can make a big difference?
"But I'll never find it locally!" Have you even tried? Several months ago I presented the first Inspiring A-Town Challenge on the Inspiring A-Town Facebook page. The challenge was to visit a local establishment you have never before set foot in. Not to buy something, just to say hello and find out what they do. It's nice to know what is available for the time you are in need. A number of people sent me messages stating they never would have thought to do this, really liked visiting a few new places, and were surprised by how much variety they found.
Whether it's a large thing or a small thing - look local first.
I know from personal experience that most local businesses will go out of their way to accommodate their customers. If you walk in and don't see what you want on their shelves they are happy to order it for you. If you are contracting for a professional service and simply cannot afford the end cost, some professionals will rearrange the plan to make it something you can afford. Now, there are those who aren't willing to accommodate customers and their sales probably reflect how well that works for them. But many bend over backwards to make you happy. All you have to do is ask.
A few months ago we got a thank you from a local business owner. Five years ago we rented tuxes for our wedding through his shop. He said he still remembers helping us pick them out. It was just a quick comment but shows how appreciative he was and how our decision to stay local made an impact. Five years later thanking us again. Macy's won't do that. Neiman Marcus won't do that. Alpena business owners do that!
Look local first.