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Buying Local Yields More Jobs, Stronger Communities

Posted: 12/16/11 09:43 AM ET

According to the National Retail Federation, Americans will spend an average of about $700 per person on holiday season shopping this year and, despite the hype surrounding Black Friday, the busiest shopping week immediately precedes Christmas. But rather than enduring long lines and sparse service at chain stores, we urge you take a different approach: seek out your local independent merchants and service providers, meet your neighbors and fully integrate your values in your purchasing decisions.

This is not a call to "get out and shop" -- far from it. In fact, we encourage you consider many great gifts that don't increase consumption: a meal at an independent restaurant, tickets to a local concert, durable locally-made goods. Most of all, consider the many benefits of patronizing local independent businesses for whatever you choose. Among the benefits:

* You'll create local jobs. And not just any jobs. While chain outlet's create mostly positions for clerks and cashiers, local businesses are hiring accountants, graphic designers, webmasters and many other positions the chains (or online giants) centralize at corporate headquarters. A multitude of small entrepreneurs provides a more vital and durable financial base than dependence on a few large corporations.

* Local businesses typically require less driving, consume far less land and have a lighter environmental impact. Because they focus primarily on local markets, local businesses place a high premium on being easily accessible by local residents. They tend to bolster community character and vitality, rather than segregating residential areas from clusters of big box development.

* Part of what makes any community great is how well it preserves its unique culture, foods, ecology, architecture, history, music, and art. Local businesses celebrate these features, while chains tend to homogenize, following a corporate template rather than respecting local architecture or customs.

* We know from studies by respected social scientists like C Wright Mills and Melville Ulmer going back more than half a century (Small Business and Civic Welfare) that small-business oriented communities "provided for their residents a considerably more balanced economic life than did big business cities" and "the general level of civic welfare was appreciably higher." A few years ago, Professor Thomas Lyson of Cornell University updated that study by looking at 226 U.S. counties dependent on big outside manufacturers. He found these communities "vulnerable to greater inequality, lower levels of welfare, and increased rates of social disruption than localities where the economy is more diversified."

* Studies of voting behavior suggest economically diverse communities have higher participation rates in local politics. The long-term relationships fostered by local business tend to enhance commitment to civic institutions like schools, churches, charities, and fraternal leagues that are essential to both local economic success and community cohesiveness.

* Finally, going local is better for you! You'll enjoy more personal interactions, more distinctive choices, and real value.

We write on behalf of two organizations that help advance a broader Localization Movement working to revitalize communities, downtowns and independent businesses of all kinds, the American Independent Business Alliance and Business Alliance for Local Living Economies. Along with other key organizations, we've joined forces for the first time to advance a new campaign, Shift Your Shopping, which urges us all to "Choose Local and Independent" for the holidays.

That doesn't mean asking anyone to swear off shopping online, dining at chains, or sacrifice their wishes. Even a modest shift of 10% more spending going to independent community-based businesses this season would create dramatic changes for the better in our economy, including a wave of new job creation (especially if we seek out more domestically-made goods).

Our choices of what and where to buy impact not only us and the people we give to, but the prosperity of our community and even our country. Along with helping your neighbors and community, you might find "going local" turns holiday shopping into a far more enjoyable experience.


Michael Shuman is research director for the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies and author of The Small-Mart Revolution: How Local Businesses Are Beating the Global Competition. Jeff Milchen is a co-founder of the American Independent Business Alliance, , which helps communities develop effective buy local/independent campaigns and many other pro-local initiatives. Read more.