Friday, April 24, 2009

Everybody Loves Main Street, Part Three

By Emily Adelman.

PART 3: Growing Pains

Now, as far as our policymakers are concerned, the local shift is going to be more substantial, and it might hurt a little. All across our fine nation, the paradigm for economic development for a long time has been based on a certain type of law of attraction. The assumption is that there are big job-creating, revenue-generating businesses out there to be seduced into settling down in our state, our county, or our city by tempting them with tax incentives, public investments, and other kinds of shiny things.

The problem is that the public investment (sacrifice?) is huge and the payoff is not always consistent. Economist Michael Shuman, author of The Small Mart Revolution and a Montgomery County resident, is a great resource who’s got his finger on the pulse of the plethora of studies that show that cultivating local businesses is a far more effective use of resources than the seduction method. Shuman has created a handy checklist for consumers, investors, entrepreneurs, policymakers, and community builders to foster a strong local economy.

In December of last year, the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development invited Shuman to present at a roundtable on local economies. This gives me hope.

At the same time, there’s much to be done while our local government is still just getting its toes wet. I believe that now is as good a time as ever to move beyond nostalgia for Main Street. We need to start putting our money where our mouth is. I’m not saying that we all have to go as far as one loyal customer went to save his local video store in Missoula, Montana (as heard on NPR), but we can start by thinking. Think about what you need to buy and where you’re going to get it. First, think about your local options. Second, think about everywhere else. All this thinking should take place, of course, before the actual buying.

If we all start thinking local first (get it?), the effects would be tremendous.


If you need some help finding locally-owned businesses near you, these websites may help:

Emily Adelman is currently working with Local First Wheaton, an alliance of independent businesses, to produce the Wheaton Shop Local Guide that will debut in May 2009 at The Taste of Wheaton. She also is working on the Buy Local Silver Spring campaign and helped produce a guide to over 200 locally-owned establishments in downtown Silver Spring.