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It feels like a Live Local Christmas-in-July morning around here! Last week I opened my paper to see on the front page of the StarNews the following headline: “Cape Fear Public Utility Authority to look to local firms for new projects in 2012.” In and of itself, it may not seem that captivating, but it’s still important and worth one’s attention. Reading on, I found out about the long-awaited improvement projects to the sewer and water systems slated to begin in 2012. More so, it said preference will be given to bids from local contractors.

Now, I know what you are thinking; this sounds obvious, right? We pay taxes here, pay for water sewer and trash, and it makes sense that the people doing the work should have to live with the quality of their work every day. There’s an additional level of accountability when one can run into “Bill” at the movies and ask him why the project he was in charge of has sprung a leak.

The StarNews reported on July 18th: “The impetus for targeting local firms is that it’s expected it will reduce the authority’s costs and also support the local economy, he [engineering manager Jim Flechtner] said. The authority expects to spend a total of $27.14 million on 32 water and wastewater projects in fiscal 2012.”

Dearest readers, do I need to tell you how happy it makes the Live Local columnist to read that the CFPUA wants to spend money here—in our economy?  I don’t know about you, but this is the first time since their inception that I have been proud of them.

Local Purchasing Preferences are on the books for many states. Ours is a relatively new price-matching preference: “Pursuant to North Carolina General Statute § 143-59 (G.S. § 143-59) and Executive Order No. 50 issued by Governor Perdue on February 17, 2010, entitled ‘Enhanced Purchasing Opportunities for North Carolina Businesses,’ a price-matching preference may be given to North Carolina resident bidders on contracts for the purchase of goods. This preference will allow a qualified North Carolina resident bidder to match the price of the lowest responsible nonresident bidder, if the North Carolina resident bidder’s price is within 5 percent or $10,000, whichever is less, of the nonresident bidder’s price. If the resident bidder requests and qualifies for the price-matching preference, the resident bidder will first be offered the contract award, and it will have three (3) business days to accept or decline the award based on the lowest responsible nonresident bidder’s price.

Really, Gov. Perdue snuck this one by me. I missed when it happened, but right now, I could kiss her I am so grateful.  It is so obvious that we need to reinvest in our tax base—thank heavens we are finally making it possible.

There naturally have been challenges to Local Purchasing Preferences. North and South Carolina were actually involved in a court case, Smith Setzer & Sons Inc. v. South Carolina Procurement Review Panel. South Carolina’s policy allowed regional firms a 5 percent advantage (i.e. if their bid was within 5 percent of the lowest bid, they could still receive the contract). When a NC manufacturer of concrete pipes, Smith Setzer & Sons Inc., proved the lowest bidder, yet wasn’t awarded the job because of the statute, the company sued. In the end, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded the states could discriminate in favor of local or in-state firms when they act as “market participants.” The court noted the importance of recycling tax monies generated from its citizens on locally produced products and services a plus over any capital funneled out of state. An econometric study done by the state showed how South Carolina could save $50,000 by purchasing Smith Setzer & Sons Inc. product. Yet, in the end they would also burden an economic loss through jobs and revenue, all to the tune of $2.1 million.

The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority‘s July 13 board meeting summary “approved a purchasing Local Preference Policy to support the local economy through purchases and contracts, where allowed by N.C. law.” Their goals are to reduce local employment and encourage a buy-local attitude.

At a time when we have over 9 percent unemployment in Wilmington (according to the Employment Security Commission’s May report), the idea of hiring firms outside our area seems questionable, at best. Instead, we can spend the money here, employ people here, and watch them spend money at New Hanover County retailers and restaurants, all of which will collect sales tax to be remitted back to our county and state governments. If the newly employed choose to buy local as well, the reinvestment will be even greater.

Our municipality deserves to re-invest in our own future. It is election time again, and we get a chance to choose people to make decisions about our future. We need to include it as part of the discussion. I encourage voters to ask the candidates at forums and at their fund-raisers if they shop local in their private lives. More so, if elected, are they prepared to make local purchasing and reinvestment a centerpiece of our local government?  We are electing them to manage our money—why shouldn’t they invest it here, in us?

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