The member organizations of BALLE, the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, are on the front lines of the “buy local” movement – trying to influence shoppers, businesses, and governments to think of their local communities first when making choices about where to spend their money.
The phrase “Local First” was actually coined at the inaugural BALLE conference in 2002. Eleven years later the movement has grown by leaps and bounds, but there is still lots of work to do – and the 600-plus individuals, non-profits, and business owners that gathered in Buffalo last week for BALLE 2013 are as fired up and committed to the cause as ever.
In the Buffalo State College Campbell Student Union, a series of five speakers from a wide array of backgrounds—ranging from business personnel to community-based organizations—highlighted a specific avenue to economic justice.
Sarah Bishop is a big believer in the power of local business.
And next week, Bishop and others will have plenty of chances to show about 500 other local business boosters just what community-focused firms have helped accomplish in the Buffalo Niagara region.
Those local business advocates will be attending a four-day national conference that begins Tuesday and is organized by BALLE, a California-based nonprofit that is focused on helping communities grow stronger by building a strong core of Main Street businesses.
If SXSW is Davos for the Web set, next week’s Business Alliance for Local Living Economies’ conference is Davos for Main Street business owners—at least the stretch of Main Street interested in listening to an owner of ACE Hardware stores expound on the rise of cooperatives, Eileen Fisher find common cause with Bhutan, and solar startup Mosaic’s co-founder talk about economic justice.
BALLE (pronounced bawl-EE), is a progressive nonprofit organization based in Oakland, Calif., with the mission of strengthening local economies around the country by shifting money from Wall Street to Main Street. The group connects about 30,000 independent business owners in its network with investors and mentors. The annual conference, which costs $595 for non-members, “is basically a counterpoint to what we’re taught in business school,” says Michelle Long, BALLE’s executive director. “It’s a shift from this competitive, I-must-crush-all [mentality]. The purpose of business is not just to make money, but to bring something of value to the world, to serve in some way.”
The goal of the conference is for attendees to learn from entrepreneurs who run successful businesses “that are fun and meaningful and of service” to local communities, says Long. “And there are a lot of investors and philanthropists [attending] who also recognize that our macroeconomic system is yielding results that nobody wants” and are looking to invest locally. Naomi Klein, who spoke at the 2011 conference, told the crowd that BALLE’s success in Bellingham, Wash., where the conference was held that year, made her “overwhelmed by the possibility of change.”
Come next Wednesday, downtown Buffalo with fill with more than 600 eager, mostly out-of-state visitors in search of a “real” Rust Belt town.
Preservationists will gape at our grand hotels and declare the East Side full of diamonds in the rough. Entrepreneurs and investors will rub elbows with our developers, bankers, and restaurateurs, and enterprising urban farmers and environmentalists will trade tips with the growers and green builders on either side of Main Street.
Everyone will also notice how beautiful the weather is right now.
The crowd will attend the annual conference for the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, known as BALLE, from June 12 to 14.
A network of 30,000 “local first” organizers representing 450,000 jobs across the country, BALLE works to boost local economies primarily by investing in independently owned businesses, which are at the heart of every community’s unique character and profitability.
Local governments could inject more than $1 billion into the B.C.’s economy by purchasing goods and services from local suppliers rather than multinational companies, according to a new study by researchers at the Columbia Institute, LOCO BC and the ISIS Research Centre at the Sauder School of Business at the University of B.C.
Buying supplies from foreign-based companies may be in conflict with those same governments’ local economic development goals, said Amy Robinson of LOCO BC, a consortium of B.C.-based businesses.
Local governments and school districts spend about $6.7 billion a year. According to the researchers’ analysis, 17 to 19 cents of each dollar spent with Staples or OfficeMax recirculates in B.C.’s economy mainly through wages paid to local staff, rent, fuel and property tax.
Local First Arizona will send a delegation to Buffalo, N.Y., next week to attend a conference and lead workshops focused on enhancing local economies.
A group of 10 Local First staffers and board members will attend the 2013 Business Alliance of Local Living Economies Conference from June 12 to 14, which is designed to bring together individuals and groups involved in the “buy local” movement to network and learn best practices for growing local economies and discuss the latest updates in public policy and economic development.
A new crop of businesses loosely called "for-benefit" is bridging the gap between for-profit corporations and non-profits that promote social welfare. They pursue a blend of financial, social and environmental goals. Together, they comprise a new and emerging sector called the "Impact Economy."
Madcap's connection to its local community is a major reason for its success, says Elissa Hillary, executive director of Local First. Local First is one of a new kind of trade organization, which represents Main Street businesses that are committed to nurturing vibrant local economies as part of their business strategy. (Local First is in turn part of the BALLE network – the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies – which supports local for-benefit businesses nationwide.)
According to Hillary, "Communities that have higher proportions of local [business] ownership are physically healthier. They are more walkable, and have more diversified wealth." In return for the business supporting the community, the community supports the business. Grand Rapids residents appreciate the value of local business, and many prefer to patronize independently owned and operated business rather than national chains. And Madcap's customers appreciate the partnership Madcap has with farmers in the developing world. They want to do business with a company that shares their values.
If we manage well, we can achieve a higher quality of life both individually and socially. Life in America the Possible will tend strongly in these directions:
Relocalization: Economic and social life will be rooted in the community and the region. More production will be local and regional, with shorter, less-complex supply chains, especially but not only in food supply. Enterprises will be more committed to the long-term well-being of employees and the viability of their communities and will be supported by local, complementary currencies and local financial institutions. People will live closer to work, walk more, and travel less. Energy production will be distributed and decentralized, and predominantly renewable. Socially, community bonds will be strong; connections to neighbors will be genuine and unpretentious; civic associations and community service groups plentiful; support for teachers and caregivers high. Personal security, tolerance of difference, and empathy will be high. Local governance will stress participatory, direct, and deliberative democracy. Citizens will be seized with the responsibility to manage and extend the commons — the valuable assets that belong to everyone – through community land trusts and otherwise.
When the richest quarter of the world’s population uses about half of our global resources--and take the liberty to produce half of the global waste--while another third live in poverty, it is clear that our economic and societal systems are failing us.
That is even before we have reached the point where our planet needs to accommodate 9 billion mostly urbanized and aging people. Add in the rapidly growing middle class in China, India, and elsewhere who also want their share, and it is easy to see that our current path is unsustainable.