The Localism Movement is Alive & Strong: BALLE 2015

by Matt Jones, Community Engagement & Programs Director,
Re>Think Local

I had the opportunity to attend BALLE 2015 in Phoenix, the 6th most populous city in the U.S., located within the Arizonan Sonoran Desert, and with an impressively robust culture of localism.

For those of you unfamiliar, BALLE is short for “Business Alliance for Local Living Economies,” and is one of the top organizations advancing the localist movement. In their words: “real prosperity begins at the local level with entrepreneurs who are re-imagining their industries, funders who are investing in local economies, and leaders who can mobilize on a broad scale. Together, we can — and will — create a stronger, more resilient, and fair economy.”

Indeed.

One of the most enlightening panels of BALLE 2015 in Phoenix was “Localism 101: An Introduction to BALLE,” led by Kimber Lanning, Founder and Executive Director of Local First Arizona, the host organization of this year’s BALLE. In her talk, Kimber cited economic statistics that show the practicality and necessity of a new economic paradigm.

For instance, in Western Michigan, this study states that “if just 10% of the market share is moved from national chains to locally owned businesses,” in a population of about 770,000, $137 million in new economic activity, more than 1,600 new jobs, and over $50 million in new wages would be generated. This study corroborates Re>Think Local’s “Indie Impact Study” which finds that “shifting just 10% of spending to local businesses would keep an additional $475 million in the Hudson Valley economy each year.”

Think of the better-paying, secure jobs created, the tax revenues raised, the local diversity and “flavor” of communities maintained, if every community in the U.S. shifted 10% of spending to local, independent businesses – truly inspiring.

Along these lines, another study cited in the panel shows that “if one in three Main Street microbusinesses (five or fewer employees) hired one employee, the country would reach full employment.” Imagine the immediate positive social repercussions, as well as the far-reaching generational impact, of full employment in the U.S.

Another panel I found fascinating was “Local First 3.0: How older, smaller buildings support strong local economies and great neighborhoods.” The first takeaway I gleaned is that it’s often more environmentally friendly to restore an older building than to build a new, albeit “green” one: “it can take between 10 and 80 years for a new, energy-efficient building to overcome, through more efficient operations, the negative climate change impacts that were created during the construction process” and “tremendous energy and cost savings can be realized by retrofitting existing windows and existing buildings.

Building age diversity is beneficial in numerous ways, including these points, garnered from Preservation Green Lab:

In other words, neighborhoods that are highly walk-able, with a diversity of building age and use, help make communities greener, more livable, and healthier, as well as revitalize and improve the sustainability of local communities, and are thus an important part of the localist movement.

Another thought-provoking panel I attended, featuring Hudson Valley’s own Bob Dandrew, Director of the Local Economies Project, was “Soil and Nature Part B: Restoring Local Foodsheds,” which examined food systems of specific regions of the U.S. In his presentation, Bob pointed out that “food systems are key to building the new economy” and that LEP believes that “human health, economic security, inclusion, and stewardship of natural resources must be central to our economic system.”

More specifically, the Hudson Valley Farm Hub, an initiative of LEP, aims to foster “sustainable agriculture, environmental renewal, and economic vitality in the Hudson Valley” by serving as a “regional center for farmer training, agricultural research and demonstration of innovative farm technologies.”

These Hudson Valley initiatives are an indicator of the positive future of food systems in our region, and of the localism movement as a whole.

Michael Shuman’s panel, “Innovation for Good,” (Michael Shuman is a localism rock-star, I highly recommend reading his four books about the subject) about a new paradigm for economic development, was bold and revolutionary.

Michael’s basic premise is that traditional economic development has generally used an “attract and retain” approach, essentially wooing outside companies to set up shop in their respective communities. This approach is expensive and counter-productive, as local businesses often can’t compete with national companies who are subsidized by the very economic developers tasked with strengthening the local economy. As a result, this policy leaves communities vulnerable, as non-local outfits that have no vested local interest often leave when the economic climate shifts, or when they are offered more attractive incentives elsewhere (a notable example: GM factories shutting down in Detroit).

Yet, it doesn’t have to be this way.

As Michael mentions in his new book, The Local Economy Solution, Lou Stein, founder of Valley Ventures, has been able to create jobs for a mere $500 each. In Michael’s own words: “What accounts for Stein’s stunning success? It’s simple. He focuses laser-like on local business. He organizes meetings of entrepreneurs. He visits existing small businesses. He finds out exactly what they need to succeed and then methodically delivers carefully tailored assistance to them. “ pg. 12, The Local Economy Solution.

He also points out that between 2008 and 2013, non-local job growth shrank by 4.3 percent, while locally owned business job growth grew by 1.2 percent pg. 12, The Local Economy Solution.

In summation, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the traditional “attract and retain” / “top-down” economic approach that is practiced both nationally and at the local level, of incentivizing large, national companies at the expense of growing and sustaining local, independent businesses, (the opportunity cost of every dollar spent on a national corporation, versus a local independent venture), is counter-productive, fraught with potential corruption, and simply more expensive and less effective than a local economic ecosystem that fosters the growth of triple bottom line, local, independent businesses.

Picture the vitality, the livability, the sustainability of this country when this traditional model is overturned by the localist movement, and when the triple bottom line, equal concern for people, planet AND prosperity, is emphasized.

BALLE 2015 was an informative and inspiring experience, and I’m eager to apply what I’ve learned to my work with Re>Think Local. We are a proud member of the BALLE network, and are working hard to advance the localism movement in the Hudson Valley.

The localism movement is alive in strong in Phoenix, Arizona, as well as in the Hudson Valley, as well as in many different regions of the U.S.

As stated above, “shifting just 10% of spending to local businesses would keep an additional $475 million in the Hudson Valley economy each year.” Let this powerful statistic inspire all of us in the Hudson Valley.

Pledge your 10% support today, and join us to grow this vital movement!

About Matt Jones

Community Outreach & Programs Director, Re>Think Local. Matt moved to the Hudson Valley in 2014, after being drawn to the unique sense of community and place, and has since put down roots in Kingston. Prior, Matt worked in New York City at the Jazz Foundation of America, The Cooper Union, and Brooklyn Community Housing and Services, in events and development. These positions gave Matt experience in fundraising, donor management and analysis, program management, website management, event management, volunteer coordination, and community building. Matt is also a songwriter, science-fiction short story writer, daily meditator, and a movie lover.
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