Ecosystem Model: Local First West Michigan

Case Study  |  West Michigan

by BALLE

Local First West Michigan
Grand Rapids, MI

Local First West Michigan (LFWM) works toward a sustainable, local living economy by supporting local business ownership and advocating for responsible business practices. With nearly 600 members, LFWM is the largest membership organization exclusively for locally owned businesses in the Midwest. Additionally, an educational foundation organizes events and programming designed to raise public awareness of the importance of local ownership and sustainable business practices. Their main program area is focused on independent retail and Local First campaigns.

Independent Retail

A growing number of studies demonstrate that supporting independent businesses has positive benefits for a community’s economy, cultural heritage, civic engagement, and environmental well-being. While retail is only about 7 percent of the U.S. economy, a healthy independent retail sector has an undeniably large impact on a community’s unique sense of place. Independent retailers are important, highly visible and influential partners in the movement toward local living economies.

Programs for independent retailers have included Local First programs, coupon books and buying cards, partnerships with local government to create “character only” independent retail zones and directories and neighborhood business maps. Local First West Michigan’s programs are designed to infuse the Local First concept in all segments of community – including business, education and public service. The region operates as a local living economy comprised of thriving locally owned businesses and characterized by economic prosperity, social equity, and environmental responsibility.

Specific Program Activities:

  • Local First Business Directory — online directory of locally owned businesses, searchable by category and keyword(s).
  • Local First Coupon Book — annual publication featuring member coupons, local business profiles, and educational information.
  • Education — opportunities to share best practices among business members (including the Local First Sustainability Conference) as well as public awareness campaigns and events promoting local ownership and sustainable business practices.
  • Local First Street Party — our largest public educational event and fundraiser: a downtown street party featuring local beer, food vendors and bands, drawing 10,000+ people.
  • Eat Local Challenge! — a series of events highlighting local food, including: a Live! & Local beer, wine and food tasting event; a Michigan Winemaker Dinner; and a ‘Fall on the Farm’ autumn-inspired, farm-fresh family picnic.
  • BALLE / Local First Campaign Consulting — Local First serves as a BALLE regional hub network, consulting similar organizations on best practices.

Program Accomplishments & Outcomes:

  • Business Support — LFWM is the largest “Local First”-type organization in the Midwest with nearly 600 local business members.
  • Brand Recognition — Nearly 40% brand recognition in Kent County as determined by community phone survey.
  • Government Recognition — The City of Grand Rapids, the Downtown Development Authority, and the Kent County Commission regularly consult Local First on local business and economic development issues.
  • Organizational Growth — From 2003 to 2010, LFWM grew from one, part-time employee to five full-time employees.