From Wall Street to Main Street to Depot Street, our recent economic instability has forever changed the way the world conducts and supports business. Especially in America, our spending and saving habits have been altered so drastically over the past few years that we would practically be unrecognizable to our former selves! But what exactly has changed within our societies? And is it ultimately for the better?
One of the most popular grassroots campaigns running rampant across the globe has been to “Shop Local,” “Support Independent Businesses,” and “Start at Home.” But catch-phrases aside, are movements like these really capable of helping us stabilize and grow our local economies? Can something as simple as where you buy your loaf of bread or who prints your t-shirts make that much of a difference?
According to the widely celebrated “3/50 Project” (www.the350project.net), 68% of the money spent at a locally owned independent store goes back into the community where it resides, as opposed to only 43% from a national chain. Also, the American Independent Business Alliance (www.amiba.net) reports that local independent businesses re-circulate over 3.5 times more money back to the community than a chain company. The numbers are undeniable, but often real life finds a way to creep back in.
The unfortunate reality of our current economic downturn is that the average person does not have the same expendable income that he once had. Budgets are tighter and wallets are smaller. Pre-Recession existence was just a little sweeter, richer and ‘oh so simple’ for us fortunate Americans. But that bubble has officially popped; Business is harder, Markets are weaker, and Life is a little bit more uncertain. As a society, we all have to pay more attention to what our bank account says, when our bills are due and whether or not we will have a paycheck next week. (The “Extreme Coupon” phenomenon is evidence enough at how far we will go to ensure certain luxuries and avoid these painful uncertainties!) But even though this period is often unsettling and excruciating, it may also be our greatest wake up call.
Areas like WNC have been especially susceptible to the shake-ups from the global recession and it is evident along the streets of our communities. Over the course of this regions’ development, we have been blessed with the overwhelming attraction of our natural elements; Mountains, Rivers, Forests, etc. The WNC region has in many ways been successful by default, simply because our surrounding resources have done a lot of the work for us; people kept coming, tourists kept spending, and the engine of our economy kept turning. Pair the mountains with a handful of local mega-companies, and our region has been able to keep “getting paid” without necessarily having to “get it right.” Unfortunately, that train has stopped and we’re going to have to get out and push. As a region, we need to be far more conscientious of the choices we are making. Individually, we all posses great power in moving these communities forward and ironically, it starts with your wallet.
How you spend your money is an invaluable resource in where you wish to place your influence. Our local economies will continue to grow, simply because everyone will continue spending in some form or another. However, HOW they grow just depends on WHERE you choose to direct your spending power. If you want more Commercial Chains, then shop at those. If you want more ‘Mom & Pop’ stores, then shop at those. If you want a bigger Farmer’s Market, then support the one in your town. The bottom-line is: the direction of our community rests in the spending choices of our residents.
My company, Black Rock Company, is in business because of the support of our local, independently owned businesses from across the region. My choice is to continue to support those who support me, as well as those who share in the same views and passions as my family. But I still shop at Wal-Mart sometimes, I’m only human.