Elissa Hillary

President, Local First West Michigan

Grand Rapids, MI

Act Local First  |  Business Network / Alliance, Community Economic Development, Environmental Sustainability

Elissa works at the leading edge of values-based capitalism, building sustainable local economies that put people first.

Elissa is committed to working at the leading edge of values-based capitalism, building sustainable local economies that put people first. As the Executive Director of Local First since 2007 and President since 2016, Elissa and her team have brought together nearly a thousand businesses in West Michigan to collaborate in building a vibrant community that encourages sustainable business development. Local First was one of the first three BALLE networks, and much of their work has centered on convening B Corporations in West Michigan. As a consultant, speaker, and thought leader, Elissa has stressed the significance of building social capital through the mutual investment of the local business, consumer, government, and philanthropic sectors. Under these initiatives, West Michigan’s economy and brand has thrived, with nationally-recognized growth and the birth of new industries.

Elissa was named Grand Rapids Young Non-Profit Professionals Exemplary Executive in 2010 and one of Grand Rapids Business Journal’s “Top 40 Under 40” business leaders in 2010 and 2012. In addition, she serves on the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority’s Board of Directors, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation Family Security Council Steering Committee, and writes a monthly column for Grand Rapids Magazine with practical tips for “living local.”


  • In the past two years, Local First has expanded its reach from the greater Grand Rapids area to include all of West Michigan
  • Local First has paired with BLab to formulate a Quick Impact Assessment, a free, online tool to measure and improve a company’s social and environmental impact; Local First convenes West Michigan’s BCorps
  • The Local Treasure campaign highlights businesses that community members have deemed a “treasure” to the city. This campaign has recognized 63 West Michigan businesses as local treasures
  • Local First, MSU Extension, and the West Michigan Growers Group have partnered to grow the market share for community supported agriculture program
  • Going into its fifth year, Local First’s Sustainable Business Conference and monthly INsight Series provide a fresh, interactive forum for entrepreneurs to share the personal and professional highs and lows of running a business in an open and honest environment.
  • Commissioned “Local Works,” a study by Civic Economics, which showed that shifting $1 in $10 to locally owned businesses would create 1,600 jobs and nearly $140 Million in new economic in Kent County. The largest study of its type, “Local Works!” and is being used by more than 150 communities around the globe.
  • Reduced waste by 13% and increased recycling by 80% in the first year of the mygrcitypoints program, a partnership between Local First and City of Grand Rapids. This partnership kept over $1 million in contracts with locally owned businesses in the City of Grand Rapids. Nearly 9,000 households participate in the program, which allows recycling residents to earn points that can be redeemed for offers at locally owned businesses.
  • Successfully advocated the City of Grand Rapids and the Grand Rapids Public School System to enact local purchasing preference policies.
  • After four years of grassroots marketing, 1 in 5 households in Kent County recognize the Local First brand and can explain what it means.
  • For three years, over 400 attendees share triple-bottom-line best practices at Local First’s annual Sustainable Business Conference.