However, a vital local economy is not defined by Zip codes.
It’s rooted in sharing values that go beyond profit — like clean water, air and healthy soil to sustain our dairies, farmlands, forests and wildlife — and protecting the landscapes that enrich our lives and draw visitors to our peninsula.
Connecting those folks who provide a community’s heartbeat — farmers, professionals, entrepreneurs, artisans and workers — with local business owners can build community wealth beyond traditional measures of success.
Embracing people, planet and profit, what’s called the “Triple Bottom Line,” is proving successful for businesses eager to be part of the emerging new economy, says Michelle Long, executive director of Sustainable Connections in Bellingham.
Sustainable Connections is a membership organization of more than 600 like-minded businesses, a BALLE — Business Alliance for Local Living Economies. Its network of business and community leaders is popular and profitable in Whatcom County and other communities as well.
Local living economies create economic prosperity while enhancing a community’s quality of life.
What’s a local business? It’s one that is owned by people who live in the community and who have complete autonomy in making decisions for their businesses — from where they buy the potatoes for their french fries to the kind of paper in the copy machine, says Long.
Locally owned businesses have local managers and employees; they advertise locally, buy or rent local houses and use a host of services, from coffee shops to landscaping, that can’t be outsourced.
They also offer opportunities for local people to invest in their own communities. A series of free BALLE webinars, “Accelerating Community Capital,” begins March 1. Register at www.livingeconomies.org.
Learn about connecting local businesses with local lenders, investors and donors to earn a “living rate of return” while supporting your local economy.
Local Living Economies includes more than 22,000 entrepreneurs across the country who share effective programs and strategies, connect farmers to market networks, and invest in new businesses — while keeping dollars in their communities.
They explore opportunities that mesh with the emerging green economy, save energy costs and create less waste to be hauled away and tap the skills of business leaders in support of a healthy, inclusive community while protecting the natural environment.
Extending these ideas to include friends, neighbors and colleagues strengthens local communities.
Nationally, small businesses account for 58 percent of the economy and the percentage is larger in rural communities like ours.
“We leave money on the table whenever we buy outside our community,” said Michael Shuman, author of
“Going Local: Creating Self-Reliant Communities in a Global Age.”
He cites one study which followed $100 spent at a local bookstore and $100 spent at the Borders chain before it faltered. Only $13 of the money spent at Borders stayed local; $45 from the local bookstore stayed in the community, Schuman noted.
A thriving, authentic community is also “the antidote to homogenization,” said Michelle Long.
Unique destinations attract visitors. International tourists seek out locations that offer a “sense of place,” restaurants that highlight regional delicacies and attractions that can’t be duplicated 50 miles up the road.
In 2009, Long offered workshops at Peninsula College, sharing stories of Bellingham’s success with more than 200 community residents. Its “buy local first” campaign seeded a network that sustains its vibrant local living economy.
The “Making It Last” workshops were sponsored by Huxley College of the Environment on the Peninsula, Lake Crescent Lodge, North Olympic Waste Reduction Advisory Committee, Olympic Cellars Winery, Sustainable Peninsula, Peninsula Development District, North Olympic Peninsula Resource Conservation and Development Council, Peninsula College and Built Green Clallam County.
Can they provide the leadership to develop a living local economy across the North Olympic Peninsula?
Will others be inspired by the vision?
Can you think of a better time to begin?
Diana Somerville writes about creating more sustainable communities and our personal connection with the environment. A Clallam County resident, she’s a member of the National Association of Science Writers, the Society of Environmental Journalists and the American Society of Journalists and Authors. Reach her at www.DianaSomerville.com or e-mail email@example.com.
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