for a new garden may well have been planted last week at City
Pulses first "Going Local" luncheon. Held at Trippers
restaurant in Frandor on Jan. 23, the luncheon attracted a diverse
mix of 50 participants--ranging in background from local retailers
and restaurant owners, to designers, planners, and organic growersbut
sharing in common a sincere interest in the theme posed by City
Pulse publisher Berl Schwarz: "How can locally owned businesses
survive and thrive in an era of globalization?"
In 2002, there were 60,000 residents working in the tri-county
area service sector. Thats a remarkable increase from the
30,000 jobs in this sector during 1983. At the same time the manufacturing
sector has been shrinking. It employs 11,000 fewer people (down
31 percent) than 20 years ago. The same trend is visible in the
mid-Michigan transportation equipment sector. Today it employs
11,800 people, which is 14,000 less than in 1983 (54 percent drop).
According to the Americas Labor Market Information System,
13,949 of the tri-countys 17,984 businesses have fewer than
10 employees--meaning an overwhelming 78 percent are considered
to be small business. Michigans Office of Labor Market Information
shows the largest sector for job growth in Lansing to be within
the service sector, a sector including thousands of small business
Mark Clevey, luncheon panelist and vice president of the Small
Business Association of Michigan, said that although the economic
impact of small businesses in the region is growing, politicians
in Washington and Lansing have shown little interest and have
made no money available: "The bottom line is that small businesses
dont make campaign contributions and that they fragment
the political power they have by arguing. The only time everybody
cares about them is during elections."
Luncheon participants agreed that this should not be the last
time they discussed sustainability and the needs of local businesses.
They discussed the need to create a "sustainable network"
in the Lansing/East Lansing area. Such a network would allow local
business owners to support each other through local, environmentally
sound buying practices, and avoid sending profits out of the area,
or investing in projects and corporate practices not supporting
the needs of the community. An essential part of strengthening
the local economy is recognizing that locally owned businesses
are here to stay because of their roots in the communities. Global
companies go where tax incentives and cheaper labor take them.
Local Living Economy provides secure and fulfilling livelihoods
for all people, works in harmony with natural systems, supports
biological and cultural diversity, and fosters fulfilling
and enjoyable community life.
Such a system embraces all contributors to the productive
life of the community, including for profit and not-for-profit
enterprises, households, and government and is guided by
the following principles:
Living economy communities produce and exchange locally
as many products needed by their citizens as they reasonably
can, while reaching out globally to other communities to
trade in those products they cannot reasonably produce at
home, and to foster cultural exchange and other mutually
beneficial forms of cooperation.
Living economy public policies support broad participation
and economic empowerment of all people and work toward the
protection and restoration of our natural environment.
Living economy consumers appreciate the community benefits
of buying from Living Economy Enterprises and, if necessary,
are willing to pay a price premium to secure those benefits.
Living economy investors receive a living return on their
financial investment, recognizing that a portion of their
return is derived from enjoying a healthy and vibrant community
and a sustainable global economy.
Living economy enterprises are human-scale, primarily independent
owned, and value the needs and interests of all stakeholders,
while sustaining long-term profitability.
They strive to:
-Source products from other enterprises with similar values,
with a preference for local procurement.
-Provide employees a healthy workplace with meaningful,
-Offer customers personal service and useful, safe, quality
-Establish a fair exchange and steady markets for suppliers.
-Cooperate with other enterprises in their industry to share
ideas whenever such collaboration advances the common good.
-Support an inclusive and healthy community.
-Sustain and restore our natural environment.
-Yield a living return to owners and investors.
understand that great creativity and innovation will be
needed in order for these principles to be fully implemented
and that they will only be realized over time.
Pulse has scheduled a second meeting for people interested
in continuing to forge a GoLocal coalition in Greater Lansing.
A chief purpose of the meeting will be to report on progress
on a business directory of locally owned businesses. The
meeting will be at noon Thursday, Feb. 20, at the Small
Business Association of Michigan, 222 N. Washington Square,
in downtown Lansing, in the associations conference
room. Please feel free to bring a brown-bag lunch. A box
lunch will also be provided for $10 a person. If you would
like to reserve lunch, please call City Pulse at (517) 371-5600
by Feb. 17.
Johnson, owner of BakeNCakes, 3003 E. Kalamazoo St.,
Lansing, which co-hosted the panel, said that larger companies
were able to jump ship when they got into economic trouble. "I
cant pick-up my roots and dump my bakery out in Okemos.
I bought my building and were kind of locked into this place."
Johnson said many bakeries have started to sell pre-packaged cookies
in plastic containers, but he personally doesnt like using
disposable items. He will continue to package his bake goods in
wax paper. But Johnson said that made it difficult to compete
against people who walk into large chain stores and grab plastic
containers from the shelves. "Education is not only needed
within businesses themselves, but also for the consumer whos
making choices day-to-day."
How can one compete against large chains? Clevey said small businesses
such as BakeNCakes are in a way already part of a
larger chain. "We just havent figured out how to market
that chain." Clevey suggested creating a logo as part of
a "going local" marketing campaign that could be found
on the front door of every locally owned businesses. The campaign
should explain why it was more exciting to buy locally.
The need to "buy local" has often been the mantra of
politicians wishing to gain the support of regional businesses.
Yet a good slogan can sometimes unfortunately be just that. Thursdays
GoLocal panel spoke of having different experiences. Paul Emery,
manager of the Capital Area Green Party and owner of Oakgrove
Computers in Lansing, reported that the information technology
giant EDS, headquartered in Texas, now does the job he used to
perform for the Michigan Department of Transportation. "Theyre
flying people in from other states to do this work for a month
-- whereas I could give a better service because Im here
all the time," said Emery. He said there was no reason for
local and state governments not to give preference to a locally
owned computer service, as theyd done in the past. City
Pulse owner Schwartz compared Emerys example with City Halls
decision to purchase its coffee from a Massachusetts-based company
rather than taking locally owned Paramount Coffees bid,
for a savings of roughly $1,500 per year (just 3 cents per package).
"We see these kinds of things happen at the county and at
the city level, though Paramount Coffee paid income taxes in Lansing,
and supported about 100 jobs right in downtown Lansing,"
Terry Link, director of Michigan State Universitys Office
of Campus Sustainability, suggested that the state give a 10 percent
discount to Michigan firms who are bidding for state purchases
through executive order, in order to make sure that the money
stays closer to home. Clevey added that there used to be such
a system, called "buy Michigan," which the Engler administration
Link suggested introducing sustainable business awards in order
to promote the right business practices, and also advertising
for small businesses. He gave the example of a restaurant that
recently received a sustainable business award in Philadelphia,
for paying living wages, using organic produce from local farmers,
generating wind-powered electricity, donating 20 percent of its
profits to charities, and not allowing the restaurant owner to
make more money than five times as much as the lowest paid employee.
"If I knew about all this when I walked into a shop, why
would I shop somewhere else?"
Mike Skory, owner of six cellular telephone and car audio stores,
said its all a matter of perception. "National chains
arent cheaper, although people think they are." He
said the perception, not the reality, causes school districts
and other government entities to use them. Skory said the perception
to always get the deeper deal has now trickled down to the consumer,
who now prefers going to "disposable quasi-villages of garbage,"
as he called malls and chain stores, instead of shopping at the
nearby grocery. "But Ive probably done it a thousand
times myself, so Im guilty too," he said.
As the discussion progressed, people admitted that they hadnt
reflected enough on the importance of buying locally. "Education
plays a big role to raise awareness," said panelist Patrick
Hudson, director of Urban Options, an East Lansing nonprofit environmental
organization. He argued that the so-called economic multiplier
was a key reason small businesses could be competitive and sustainable
at the same time: Every expenditure cascades into a larger number
of transactions, which could end up greatly enriching the community.
Quoting Michael H. Shumans book "Going Local,"
he said: "Once the multiplier leaves the community, the benefits
of subsequent transactions are lost. A community in which money
flows out quickly and never returns slowly bleeds to death."
Hudson pointed out that the backbone of success was buying food
and energy on a local scale. Here, local investments greatly increased
the likelihood of the economic multiplier staying at home.
Sarah Davis/City Pulse
at the GoLocal luncheon hosted by City Pulse at Trippers
were, from left, Julie Sawaya, general manager of Woodys
Oasis Bar and Grill in East Lansing; Pat Hudson, executive
director of Urban Options; City Pulse owner Berl Schwartz;
and Mark Clevey, vice president of the Small Business Association
Sawaya, the third panelist and general manager of Woodys
Oasis Bar and Grill in East Lansing, said she was interested in
giving something back to the community. She spoke about her current
project, in which she is working on a grant that would enable
East Lansing businesses to build a recycling program. Now, business
owners had to take care of recycling by themselves. "My staff
came to me and told me how many bottles they were forced to throw
out," Sawaya said. With the help of this grant, Sawaya would
like to eventually make recycling even a profitable choice.
Okemos resident M.C. Rothhorn emphasized the importance of marketing
sustainable concepts, "so we can actually make customers
aware that they can buy good stuff locally." With this intention,
Rothhorn, a social worker, recently joined a project to map out
food sources, organized by the Greater Lansing Food Bank. "Were
choosing a geographic area and then seeking out local residents,
and getting their interest piqued about the idea. Then we hope
to slowly and steadily expand from a pilot project, to a larger
undertaking--ideally mapping Lansing's most needing
neighborhoods," Rothhorn said. The project aims to improve
the quality of life in close-knit neighborhoods.
There were other projects underway, such as the one started by
East Lansing resident Patricia Wood. Last summer, Wood contacted
activists from the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies,
a network operating in 18 cities in the United States, to gain
support for "a living economy that works in harmony with
natural systems, supports both biological and cultural diversity,
and fosters fulfilling and enjoyable community life for all peoples."
Wood said there was a need for more networking in the area.
fledgling GoLocal movement has an e-mail list, courtesy of
Paul Emery, owner of Oakgrove Computer Group. To sign up,
send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the body of the message, type Subscribe LansingGoLocal
and your name. Leave the subject field blank. If you have
problems, call Emery at (517) 372-3349.
participants were excited by Cleveys idea to publish a business
directory that specifically focused on the needs of locally owned
businesses. "It would be very helpful to have a directory
in which you can find information on who exactly offers organic
food for restaurants," Sawaya said. She said that, as a vegetarian,
she would often buy organic produce. She wished to feed her customers
organic food as well, but thought that doing so would be more
difficult. Sawaya asked: "Am I going to be fined by the Ingham
County Health Department, because Im not buying from official
dealers? Also, many times Im road blocked, because a case
of tomatoes from an organic farm may be $20 more than the one
of the local produce company."
Phil Throop, who runs the Wildflower Organic Farm in Bath, was
able to help. He said buying organic produce wasnt problematic
at all. "A case of tomatoes wont be $20 more, and the
quality is better. I know there are no regulatory barriers, because
I serve restaurants myself. Thats a very simple, economical
Sawaya said she found this discussion really "awesome,"
because she didnt usually have access to such important
information. "Until today I was told that I had to buy from
a certain type of supplier. I simply didnt know, and also
didnt have the time to check myself." Other luncheon
participants agreed, and pointed out that thered been a
lack of communication in the past, and that all small businesses
have a lot to gain from creating a network community.
Clevey added that if a business directory were created, the people
listed should be committed to buying from each other. Hugh McNichol,
a planner for the Michigan Department of Transportation, added
that a sustainable business guide could also explore existing
gaps in the community, and give would-be entrepreneurs the opportunity
to fill in these niches. Nichols suggested including educational
information on how small businesses can get the capital they need
to get started, a problem that is frequently a lot more difficult
than it is for large companies.
In former times, Skory said, the location of a business used to
be a secret for success, but with the way area development progresses,
the right location now seems to change almost weekly. Urban sprawl
was especially problematic, he said. "Each time a big shopping
center wants to come in, the township governments just fall over
themselves to build roads and sewers." Hudson said that Gov.
Jennifer Granholm supports "smart growth" and has appointed
former Gov. William G. Milliken and former Attorney General Frank
Kelly to develop a legislative strategy for fighting urban sprawl..
"She has said that its going to be a concentrated effort
of analyzing the cost of incentives for that development, versus
the long-term cost of loss to the community." Clevey said
every Chamber of Commerce in Michigan seems lined up against the
new governor on smart growth. He suggested that members call up
their chambers or industry associations and "put pressure
on them, because theyre using your dues to undercut you
on this issue."
M.C. Rothhorn said he felt inspired to see that Lansing is moving
in a sustainable direction, one that reminded him of San Francisco,
where hed lived until recently. "San Francisco is going
through the same issues were dealing with here and they
also have a free weekly paper, called the Bay Guardian, which
is also organizing the return to local businesses."
Publisher Schwartz said he wants City Pulse to be the venue for
getting the word out. Schwartz referred to the papers own
struggle against the largest newspaper chain in the country, Gannett,
which owns 94 daily newspapers including USA Today and the Lansing
State Journal and 22 television stations. When it started NOISE
to compete against City Pulse, Schwartz said, it reached into
its "deep pockets to start a publication overnight, put up
billboards all over town, and buy television commercials."
"I think we can help educate consumers about the long-term
importance of supporting local businesses," he said.