One of the basic principles taught in my high school class was that economies were based on the production of solutions to “needs” and “wants.” Trying to get ninth graders to separate the idea of needs from wants took some time: None of us were yet paying rent or budgeting for an entire month of meals. Though the idea did sink in after a while, I think many people today forget these lessons. We are living in a country that is voluntarily giving up its control and production of solutions to our needs. That is very scary.
What has surprised me the most from the Live Local feedback is the number of people who defend companies that send jobs overseas. The disconnect is stunning. After the column on off-shoring jobs, I was deluged by people writing in defense of factory owners and politicians who had rendered them personally jobless!
No, I do not believe that we still live in a world with maps that include mermaids and sea monsters, or that we will fall off the edge if we sail too far. However, I do feel that we need to seriously discuss enacting a local purchasing preference on both a county and state level.
From The New Rules Project, an organization that strengthens local economies, “Procurement Matters: The Economic Impact of Local Suppliers” was conducted by Civic Economics, an economic analysis and strategic planning firm. The study focuses on a specific case, in which the state of Arizona switched its office-supply contract from Wist Office Products, a third-generation family-owned business based in Tempe, to an OfficeMax contract, a subsidiary of the retail chain.
Relying on surveys, annual reports and SEC filings, Civic Economics found that only 11.6 percent of OfficeMax’s contract’s total revenue remained in the local economy, compared to 33.4 percent of Wist’s total revenue, or nearly three times more. The study notes that this disparity would be even greater for the contract supply divisions of Staples and Office Depot, which unlike OfficeMax do not maintain distribution centers in Arizona.
Civic Economics reported that major factors behind Wist’s higher contribution to the Arizona economy included: 1. A larger local payroll (while OfficeMax has staff at its corporate headquarters in Illinois, (all of Wist’s 60 employees are in Arizona and receive full health benefits); 2. A larger share of profits remaining in the state; 3. More goods and services purchased from other Arizona-based businesses; and 4. Greater involvement and contributions to local charity.”
Let me break it down: Say I was buying a house, for example. Someone told me I could spend the same amount of money, and get a house that had a nicer kitchen and would appreciate in value three times more than the house with a very Spartan kitchen and little to no likely appreciation; which would I choose? The answer is clear. We need to make an investment in ourselves. need to pick the house that is going to increase in value, by purchasing from local companies.
Our economy is responsive: When there is a demand, it responds. If we demand local purchasing and investment, it will happen—but not without our voice. I am not going to change the tide of our current economic system with my consumer habits alone, but together we can make a big difference. Change happens with numbers. So I ask readers: Does your church buy local? That might sound like a strange question, but churches need office supplies, kitchen and janitorial supplies, too. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America has a local purchasing guide for its congregations. From their website, it’s noted under “Our Faith in Action”:
“Many organizations have a small economic footprint in their communities. But no matter how small that may be, there is always the opportunity to support the local community and make this known. With this in mind, some organizations choose to waive the lowest price they might pay for goods or services in order to support the local economy. It is often helpful to delineate the scope of decisions in this area of vendor choice. A two-page resource on the benefits of purchasing locally is available through the American Independent Business Alliance.
“XXX (synod/congregation/organization) chooses to support our local small business community through our purchasing power. Therefore, we make a commitment to purchase the following items from our local small businesses: Printing services, cleaning services, catering.”
Some people may not feel that starting with legislation in Raleigh is the first option to make a difference. Thus, they can propose to buy local at church, on the job, at the kids’ schools and especially at home. In the end, the jobs they save may just be their own.