MISSION: Southwest Research and Information Center is a multi-cultural organization working to promote the health of people and communities, protect natural resources, ensure citizen participation, and secure environmental and social justice now and for future generations
When local governments talk about growth in their communities, it tends to focus around tax revenues. These discussions generally put officials on the side of industry and large chain stores, offering them economic incentives such as industrial revenue bonds, fee waivers, infrastructure improvements, etc. But the question remains, do these large companies actually increase the tax revenues for communities? Dependent on the situation, the answer is probably no.
In 2002, the Austin Independent Business Alliance commissioned a report by Civic Economics (CivEc), an economic analysis and strategic planning consultant. Their report found that, depending on the siting of the “big box” chain store, it could actually lower the total tax revenues to a community. Essentially, having different, complementary stores actually increases traffic to shopping areas, as shoppers in one store may browse and spend in a neighboring store. The problem with chain stores is that the only money that stays in the community is essentially that of the local labor hired by the store, the rest goes directly to the national headquarters, which is then distributed to its stockholders. While with a local merchant, more money stays in the community in the form of a generally larger local labor pool, local accounting services, advertising, etc. In addition, depending on the type of sales, the local merchant may also promote local artists, which generate additional economic impact to a community. National chains generally do not stock local items and tend to have a more generic selection.
This is not to say that all chain stores are bad. Some are beneficial, but the greater challenge lies in the siting of these stores. A large chain store across the street from a cluster of local merchants will generally drive the locals out of business, and in the process lower the economic vitality of a community. This is the reason why Independent Business Alliances are being created across the country. Their goal is to show why local merchants need to be considered by public officials when economic growth is being discussed.
Three New Mexico entities promoting our local economies are presented in this issue of Voices from the Earth: the Albuquerque Independent Business Alliance (AIBA), La Montanita Co-op, and the Taos County Economic Development Corporation (TCEDC). These organizations hire locally, use local services, advertise locally, and also promote other local individuals, merchants, and even non-profit organizations. AIBA promotes local merchants, challenge local officials to buy locally, and are challenging people “to think outside the big box.” The Co-op hires locally on all levels, educates, informs, and assists in the development of local products. And TCEDC educates, assists in the development of local products, and even trains people in the production and marketing of their products for sale in local markets.
We hope that the work of these three organizations will help community planners “Think Local” and “Be Local” in their community growth initiatives. Other articles in this issue discuss mining on indigenous lands, the expansion of uranium mining in New Mexico, and an excerpt from a report on the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.
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“There are monetary reasons to buy locally of course, and the numbers and financial impact are important, but there are social and cultural reasons as well. When you shop locally you support your neighbors and your friends. You nurture your community. They might know your name at a chain store, but at a small local business, they know your name, and the name of your kid's little league team, and they'll support them.”
— Elissa Breitbard, President
Albuquerque Independent Business Alliance
Crosswinds Weekly, 2005