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.
From incubators and makerspaces to nonprofits and social enterprises, the energy surrounding social innovation is contagious, but as this ecosystem grows, social change entities become disconnected and often work in silos. Conferences like TEDx attract hundreds of people and connections are made, but the consolidation of brain-power, energy, talent, and resources isn’t permanent enough to create long-term efficiency and large-scale change.
Coworking spaces are specifically designed to inspire, connect, and enable individuals to realize entrepreneurial ideas, but how could this model be pushed further? How could the innovative work within these walls be shared with the public? How could untapped social capital within the public be leveraged, and how could collaborative innovators be connected to more resources?
Each month we’ll be taking a closer look at the people who make up the 2013 BALLE Local Economy Fellowship and sharing insight into what makes them tick, what inspires them to do this work, and why we think they are among the rising stars in Localism.
Welcome Sarah Bishop from Buffalo, New York, our February Featured Fellow of the Month. As well as being a BALLE Fellow, Sarah is leading the local planning for the BALLE Conference in Buffalo, June 12-14, 2013.
Help us welcome Sarah by joining us for an Instagram Live Feed on March 1 at 10:00 am PST. Sarah has been compiling some of her favorite Localist images from around Buffalo and is going to share them with us in real time and offer commentary on each one.
Sarah’s passion for Buffalo and Buffalo First!, is more than a job, it’s her calling. In her words:
“Buffalo First! exemplifies that the toughest socio-economic barriers can be overcome by a common denominator, Localism. We are reaffirming the commitment to the spirit of collective entrepreneurship envisioned by great Black statesmen such as Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, and other progressive leaders that keenly understood that a thriving local economy was synonymous with a self-determined one. We are proud to be the example of Rust Belt Localism, and to dispel the myth that localism is merely a trend or a belief held, reserved for, and/or executed by a certain class/race of people.”
What will BALLE Conference-goers experience in Buffalo?
Sarah says that Localism is engrained in the culture. As the third poorest city in the country, corporations overlooked Buffalo, instead seeking more lucrative markets. The upside, of course, is that Buffalo is one of the few cities today that is full of locally owned and independent businesses. And, Buffalonians are proud of that fact. They take a great pride in finding and frequenting locally owned businesses. You will be hard-pressed to find a Buffalonian that prefers a national chain to their neighborhood independent store.
Why Localism Matters:
Sarah sees the grassroots movement as one that happens neighbor by neighbor, person by person. While the outside world sees a huge collection of “Buffalonians” the people who live there are compelled by individual dreams, talents, and character traits.
Why Place Matters:
“I feel really drawn to this place and I want to invest in it. I grew up here and despite thinking that I would be on the first train out when I could, I now find myself compelled to stay here.”
“When my partner Brooke accepted a scholarship to pursue her Master's Degree at The Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at New York University in New York, I was thrilled – and also realized something pivotal, for me it was a turning point: I didn’t want to leave, and decided I could not leave, Buffalo. “
Being able to see the needle move towards a more socially just society, to know that these stories have a ripple effect, and that an impact is being made is what keeps Sarah going.
Her hobbies outside of her work might not look like hobbies at all, but she says ‘once an organizer, always an organizer’ and feels duty-bound to volunteer with other nonprofits that need her skills and experience. She sums it up by saying: “I like to put my network back to use!” Spending more time outdoors in the Adirondacks and hiking and traveling outside of the city are also giving her a chance to hone her skills as an amateur photographer – so it comes as no surprise that the most used app on her phone is Instagram.
Sarah’s goals for the Local Economy Fellowship:
“To continue to fight for an economy that benefits people, the planet, and builds true prosperity. To continue to build the infrastructure necessary to create a self-sustaining and perpetuating movement, built on systems that are life enriching, truly democratic, and aligned with our most sacred values. In the next five to ten years, I hope that this community continues to redefine “the big picture” to reflect the expansiveness and creative nature of the new economy movement. With that said, what can’t we achieve?”
The Michigan Economic Development Corp. and Local First have partnered to form a two year pilot program to increase awareness of the economic impact of supporting local businesses, while gathering data that could lead to new or improved small business support programs.
Grand Rapids-based Local First partners with about 600 independent businesses and community organizations to support sustainable economic development in the region.
As part of the pilot program, Local First will expand its developments into Grand Haven, Holland and Portland. The nonprofit will also hire a new staff member who will collaborate with the new locations’ community leaders and business members.