The soul of local

So you want to help your local economy, and you’re doing everything you can. You’re shopping at stores owned locally. You’ve bought your Go Local CD at CMCU/Self-Help. Or you’ve invested in a local business through Mountain BizWorks. You’ve talked to Peter Krull about how to move more of your money to other local-investment vehicles. You’re volunteering at a local nonprofit. You’re donating to a local charity. You’ve even joined one of the many groups forming in Asheville of people talking about new economic models, so you’re contributing your brainpower to the effort as well.

But — and this is an important but — have you sourced your stuff locally?

If you are a restaurant owner, are you buying your vegetables from local farms like New Sprout or Hickory Nut Gap? If you run a manufacturing company, have you looked locally to see if you can get those critical widgets you need, made by one of the many Western North Carolina manufacturers that is trying to reinvent themselves in the recession? If you run a clothing store, have you thought about featuring the work of local craftspeople in your dress lines? If you own a gift shop or gallery, are you featuring local artists and potters? If you manage an event company, are your gift bags full of local goodies?

The list of questions could go on and on.

And there is so much more we can do.

What if each business that sports a Go Local logo in its window also pledged to purchase supplies and materials from a local vendor, assuming availability and price are amenable? Or what if a large number of folks put pressure on some of the major employers here in town to do the same?

The latter model could produce something like the Evergreen Cooperative Initiative in Cleveland, Ohio, where several major institutions — including a hospital and university —created an “integrated network of for-profit, employee-owned, green businesses” that would be “linked to the supply chains of the city’s anchor institutions and other locally based customers.” The initiative’s driving force was revitalizing “core city neighborhoods through job and wealth creation for all employee owners, while supplying … customers with highest quality, cost-competitive services.” The cooperative created the green businesses (such as a green laundry) that were needed to supply the hospital, the university, etc. — and those businesses created living wage, green jobs in six low-income neighborhoods. (Check it out at evergreencooperatives.com.)

We also need a website that makes this whole process easier. Franzi Charen of the Asheville Grown Alliance is working on one that would help folks source locally. But what if it also featured a section on “Businesses Needed in Asheville” — where people could share ideas? For instance, wouldn’t it be good if a bright entrepreneur who wants to start a business here was steered toward one that fills a gap or serves a crying need — and therefore has a built-in market?

And wouldn’t it also be great if kids who grew up here could actually start businesses that succeed or, if they are not entrepreneurial, at least be able to move into living wage jobs? I would love to see us keep a pool of young talent in Asheville. Nonprofits might list, via such a website, ideas for new organizations that are needed here. So maybe some of that talent pool could start a nonprofit and serve a community need while finding meaningful employment with local social impact.

Wouldn’t it also be great if the website featured places to invest your money for local impact, so that people who want to settle here and have the money to invest in this economy might be steered toward investments in existing companies that need their help?

Those are just my thoughts this week, largely inspired by Charen. With “Go Local: Put Your Money Where Your Heart Is” campaign, she has started a powerful, positive movement in this region. It has brought our business community into thinking of each other not as competitors but as collaborators. That’s a powerful force for good.

As Franzi says, “We can all rise together!”

So let’s keep it going and growing.

— Jane Hatley is the WNC regional director for Self-Help Credit Union in Asheville, where she has worked since 2001, first as a commercial loan officer and then a business development officer, before becoming director upon Joyce Harrison's retirement in 2012.

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