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Go Local!

October 14, 2015
Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer ( , Estherville News

We can build it ourselves. That's the impression I had on the tour of the newly-renovated Excel building Tuesday night. I've lived in Sioux City, Vermillion, So. Dak., Spencer, Fostoria and now Estherville for only a couple of months. The common thread through the other towns was the focus by economic leaders on bringing in new companies. The result, after handing over incentives, tax forgiveness, and cash, is far too often the company's "difficult" decision to leave, which coincides quite closely with the end of the incentive period. I haven't tracked whether so many corporations profit this way living as grifters moving from place to place accepting handouts from locals, but I believe most municipalities should say no more often and hold onto our money instead of supporting their corporate welfare dependence that gets us nowhere.

That's why I'm so inspired by the new Excel Building downtown. First of all, instead of throwing it away, our leaders had a vision and followed through on restoring a century-old building even with its problems (like the interior decimation by JCPenney of the main floor space) and the difficulties in taking on such a project. They have mixed an intelligent combination of old and new in the renovation, keeping really beautiful ceilings and floors and trim, and creating new capabilities for today's technology. They've kept what they could, right down to the brick and tile on the front door, which is about to be taken apart, cleaned up and fixed by an experienced craftsman.

Go local. According to YES! Magazine and Civic Economics, buying local products at locally-owned businesses keeps money circulating closer to where you spend it. This creates a ripple effect as those businesses and their employees in turn spend your money locally. Corporate chains send most of your money out of town. More specifically, for every dollar spent at a local business, 45 cents is reinvested locally. Spending that same dollar at a corporate chain only results in 15 cents reinvested locally.

A little change in spending habits goes a long way. If everyone in a community spends a greater percentage locally, the multiplier effect turns that into big bucks for the local economy. Let's say you spend $200 per year (less than $20 per month) at local businesses. If you increase that to $500 (a little more than $40 per month) per year, and multiply that by the number of consumers in our community, those ripples of economic growth will turn into tidal waves.

How is that connected to new businesses in the Excel Building? For one, Spice Market will be a unique space for coffee, healthy snacks and daytime meals. If even a few hundred people switch from the chain spot for lunch to Spice Market once per week or month, there's a ripple. If you make decisions for a business and when your contract comes up, you switch to tech services from one of the businesses in the Excel Building entrepreneur neighborhood, there's another ripple. If you get off Amazon and other big box websites at the holidays to shop at the pop up store, or at one of the Estherville-based shops, there's another ripple. One positive action splashes into another.

Estherville has done a vital thing to create a local economy, according to Michael Schuman, research director of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies. Our leaders have tilted the policy landscape toward developing new local businesses, Instead of lecturing consumers on buying local, they've created space, infrastructure, and a not-insignificant amount of money for local business to begin and to flourish. Shuman is extreme in his view that government should refocus all its resources on local business. It's not just food and crafts that make a local economy, but tech, manufacturing and the arts. Artists don't have to be in a separate, luxury category. They can be considered the same as web developers.

This community has built the space. Will enough locals believe in themselves enough to make a go of that product, that idea, that passion they've rolled around in the back of their minds? I know there are innovators out there. If you have an idea, call Lexie Ruter at the Chamber; call Lyle Hevern at the Economic Development office. Estherville is ready.

Go local.



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