My view: Buying local benefits Utah's economy

By David Nimkin

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 29 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Lane Brusa and Caroline Boyden grab soup at Harmons in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2012. Local business and civic leaders unveiled a new economic study that shows spending money at local businesses can have a bigger impact on the local economy than spending at national chains.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

In his recent blog post, Jay Evensen represented that buy local movements are for the "economically illiterate" ("'Buy-local' movements are for the economically illiterate," Aug. 18). He was making reference to a timely study completed by Civic Economics in Salt Lake City business districts that shows how spending by consumers in our locally owned and independent businesses contributes more — 382 percent more — than spending at national chains. While Evensen makes a valid point in his post about the value of comparative advantage, he misses the point of the study and the contributions of local and independent businesses to our community.

Local First Utah, a non-profit group which we helped to organize seven years ago, commissioned this study and has been striving to promote "economic literacy" for consumers, local governments and businesses themselves. Our premise is that local and independent businesses form the foundation for our communities, they help to define our unique character and as has now been validated, they return far more to the local community than national chains. It has not been nor will it ever be the message or objective of Local First Utah to promote "local only." That would be untenable, impractical and unrealistic.

Our mission and our goal, further validated in this study, is that buying local is good for the local economy. We only recommend, as our name suggests, that consumers become more knowledgeable and consider buying local first. Consumers have choices and we hope this study, and the work of our partnership of over 3,000 locally owned and independent businesses in Utah will encourage a more informed choice.

Our locally owned and independent businesses are indeed what differentiate our communities, our tastes, our culture and our customs. They are often how we define the places we love — think ninth and ninth in Salt Lake City and 25th Street in Ogden. It is through the formation of local businesses that our citizens gain an equity stake and become vested in our community. It's where our kids get their first jobs, and it's where you go for a contribution for a local event. This is not exclusive to local businesses, but you better believe, we know and we lament when we lose a local business.

We are promoting a small shift in buying — nothing excessive — just a small shift that has a big impact for local businesses, and, as a result, for the local economy (nearly half a billion dollars in SLC alone).

Additional research further shows that a marginal shift in revenue for local businesses has a significantly greater impact on job creation (San Francisco Retail Diversity Study, 2007). And Evensen's notion of cheap Internet prices … please — do you have any idea how much sales tax revenue is lost to the state of Utah from consumers perhaps finding a "deal?"

In fact, it is an economically literate choice to consider buying local first as the Civic Economics study details. We encourage readers, people who value and care about our community, to visit the Local First Utah website (www.localfirst.org). We believe that a better-informed consumer will make a choice that values our local economy and the quality and character of our community and will consider buying local first.

David Nimkin is the senior director of the National Parks Conservation Association for the Southwest Region.

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