In his influential book “Deep Economy,” writer Bill McKibben argued that, in this time of uncertain global relations, diminishing fossil fuels, and the homogenization of communities around the world, the maintenance of independent, self sufficient cities and villages should be a key goal of future development.
He was talking about the idea of buying local – locals investing money in local businesses, enabling the development of local goods and services and creating a self-perpetuating circle of growth that strengthens the community as it, in turn, is strengthened by it.
What McKibben was able to do was take what has often been characterized as a quaint, parochial, “hippy”-ish idea and relate it to hard economics and the interests of commerce, ensuring its appeal to chambers of commerce and business owners as well as social idealists.
It is a pretty simple idea – by making an effort to spend shopping dollars with local businesses as much as possible, residents are developing job opportunities for their friends and family, supporting the maintenance of local infrastructure, keeping towns and villages viable, and promoting an economic activity which nourishes social energy, is attractive to new families, and prevents the erosion of communities due to the leakage of money to bigger centers.
McKibben’s book included some grand ideas, such as the development of local electricity stations, that may take some time to be readily accepted by cities the size of Issaquah.
But a far simpler, and more immediate, buy local program is taking hold in Washington cities, and will be launched in Issaquah in November.
Issaquah Chamber of Commerce CEO Matt Bott told The Reporter this week that for the past few months the chamber had been working on creating a way to connect local residents with local businesses – the end goal being to reduce the amount of money residents spend outside the city.
“This is a great example of the things we can do, as a chamber, to have a positive effect on the community,” Bott said.
He said the chamber had formed a number of focus groups, and was talking with individual business owners to “tap into their wisdom” as to the best ways to promote local business.
The chamber has also been studying the success of buy local programs in nearby cities, such as Renton’s Curve Card, and similar programs in Federal Way, North Bend and Spokane.
Though the details are yet to be worked out, buy local programs often involve a discount for local residents at participating stores, or some other incentive, and include the full range of businesses, from restaurants and food suppliers to tutoring services and car repairs.
“What we really want to do is talk to those people who spend their money way outside the city, and at least encourage them to have a look at what is available locally,” Bott said.
But just what “locally” means is a matter for debate.
Though Bott said that any business which operates in Issaquah, regardless of who owns it, is considered a local business, many supporters of buy local programs believe the purpose of such a program should be to support locally-owned businesses.
Sustainable Issaquah is one such group currently considering how best to promote and support local businesses.
At their latest meeting of Sept. 19, members continued their discussion of a buy local program, though that plan is still very on the drawing board.
But according to Sustainable Issaquah members Lori Danielson and Eric Schneider, the group is leaning toward defining a “local” business as one that operates in the city but is, importantly, owned by local residents.
“It’s all got to do with what happens to the money after it is spent,” Schneider said. “Does it leave, as profits, or does it stay in the community?”
Although businesses that are not locally owned, particularly large operations such as QFC and Safeway, do bring employment opportunities to the city, in terms of ensuring local dollars are circulated in the city, generating a self-sustaining economic cycle, it is claimed that outside-owned businesses represent as much of a drain as shopping elsewhere.
Bott said the chamber also recognized the environmental benefit of buying locally.
“If people chose to shop in Issaquah, rather than driving somewhere else, then that is reducing carbon emissions,” he said.