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The City Journals

Buying local helps both you and your neighbor, says Local First Utah

Aug 20, 2018 03:58PM ● By Jana Klopsch

Local businesses are a lot better at keeping your money in Utah’s economy than national chains are. (Civic Economics and Local First Utah)

By Mariden Williams | [email protected]

How often do you buy from local businesses? It's a question worth thinking about, according to Local First Utah, a nonprofit organization that works to educate the public, government and business owners about the value and vitality locally owned businesses bring to the community. 

"For every dollar you spend at a locally owned business, four times more of that dollar stays in Utah's economy than if you spend that same dollar at a big box store or an online retailer," Kristin Lavelett, executive director of Local First, told the Riverton City Council at their Aug. 7 meeting. 

"If you break that down numerically, I believe that's 56 cents on the dollar. So, for every $100 you spend locally, $56 stays here. Otherwise it's about $13 that stays if you spend that at a big box store, and it's really pennies on the dollar if you spend it online," said Lavelett. 

Since local businesses have less corporate infrastructure, there's more tax money left over to enhance the community. They also offer better job opportunities and donate to local charitable causes at almost triple the rate of national chains. 

Local First specializes chiefly in education and promotion — it runs public awareness campaigns, and offers classes and promotional materials to business owners, to help them better brand themselves as local. Partner businesses receive a large Local First sticker to put on their doors, as well as a listing on the organization's local business directory.

It may not seem like a lot, but it makes a big difference. 

"When a number of businesses are participating in a community, those businesses start to see a real bottom-line impact," said Lavelett. 

The Institute for Local Self Reliance ran a 10-year study, which they ended in 2015 due to the very consistent results they found year after year. 

"What they found over those 10 years is that sales growth of independent businesses in communities with an active buy-local campaign, such as Local First Utah, were pretty much double those of their counterparts in communities without an active buy-local campaign," said Lavelett. 

Businesses can partner with Local First Utah for free — the organization does not charge anything for access to their materials, or for a listing on their registry. 

So what counts as a local business? Mom-and-pop stores certainly qualify, but so do locally owned franchises — so long as they are headquartered in Utah and at least 51 percent of the shareholders live in-state. 

"A Subway franchise would not qualify, because they don't really make their sales decisions independently,” said Lavelett. “But an Even-Stevens — they're not technically a franchise but a local chain, per se — absolutely qualifies." 

Local businesses also increase the character of a community. Seeing the same cluster of national chain stores again and again in every shopping center, perhaps slightly rearranged depending on location, can create a sterile, generic feeling. Combating that generic feel is another one of Local First's goals, and this idea of creating a destination holds a certain amount of appeal for Riverton officials, given their interest in revitalizing Riverton's historic downtown area.

"It's really the idea of creating a character of place, creating a destination, creating an independent neighborhood business district that is a place where your residents want to live, work and play," said Lavelett.

One area that Local First has seen a lot of success with in this respect is what Lavelett termed the "central 9th neighborhood," at about 900 South and 200 west. 

"It's an area that's a little bit historic and a little bit new growth,” said Lavelett. “We've worked with a lot of the businesses to help brand that community, create that identity. It's an area that was previously an RDA zone, it was low-income… it's revitalizing. I really believe in revitalization over gentrification. There's not a situation in which I ever want our work to be something that pushes out the residents who live there… and that's what we've been able to accomplish in central 9th."