Let Local Businesses Show You What They Can Do

I reconnected this week with a colleague from the past who holds a special place in my heart.

While I can’t say as I knew her really well, she served as an important role model.

At the time I had graduated from Brock University with a degree in recreation and leisure studies and was working for the City of Niagara Falls. My colleague was a director of recreation for a large municipality, had a reputation for intelligence and hard work, and was a leader within our provincial professional association. She was the one who stood up to the old boys at annual meetings asking insightful, hard-edged questions, pushed all of us to question the status quo, and inspired us to believe we could do better. She made me proud to be working in the field of municipal recreation.

As I discovered when we met over breakfast to catch up, she’s had a number of career moves since then and is no longer working for a municipality. She now lives in another province where she owns her own company specializing in working with communities to develop master plans for recreation, parks, arts, culture and heritage.

Despite her talents and experience, it is often a tough gig because as a small company she’s competing with larger and longer established consulting firms. In fact, she recently lost out to a large out-of-province firm who, in an attempt to gain a foothold in western Canada, had bid on what would have for them been considered a relatively small contract.

Ironically, it was a master plan for a community that she knew very well as it was next door to where she lived. She had been involved there in a volunteer capacity, understood the issues, and spent a fair bit of time there as it was also where her parents lived.

Yet despite those advantages, and as is too often the case, elected officials and staff appear to have been swayed by the glitz of a big city company and missed an opportunity to support a local entrepreneur.

It seems they didn’t give much thought to the fact that by passing on the opportunity to support a local business, they also missed an opportunity to invest in their own community well-being. 

After all, my colleague had a much greater vested interest in ensuring the important decisions were made, owned, and implemented by local citizens. Additionally, since her overhead as a small home-based business is much less than larger corporations, her fees were lower.

If her consulting company had been hired, far more dollars would also have been kept and invested in the local economy thereby enriching the community rather than the out of province community of the company that was awarded the contract.

Research shows that for every $1 spent at local businesses, 45¢ is reinvested locally. Non-local purchases keep, at most, 15¢ in the local community. 

Additionally, the more successful my colleague is, the more likely she is also going to be able to create more jobs in the community.

The community would also have garnered more bang for their buck as there would have been no travel costs, far fewer costs attributed to the more expensive overhead of a larger company, and much less time spent in becoming oriented to the community and their strengths and challenges.

Too often, many also overlook that it is the smaller, local businesses that give back to the community not only in terms of tax dollars but also in providing support to community groups.

While things didn’t work out this time for my colleague, I know she will continue to build on the many successes she has had to date, and will ultimately survive and thrive.

It was, however, a reminder that if we’re really serious about wanting stronger and healthier communities, we will all need to think more, and get better about, buying and investing locally.

Giving local businesses the opportunity to show what they can do is an opportunity to put our money where our mouth — and the rest of our body — lives, works, and plays.

Posted on 04-13-15

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