While this may seem an easy question to answer, when we are trying to determine who can and who cannot be a member of our Local First network, it is not simple at all. Is a retail business with several outlets outside of our city still local? How many stores can it have before it is no longer ‘locally owned’? Does the size of a business matter? Size in revenues or number of employees? What about a bank? Must it be privately held? Or, how much of the bank can be publicly traded before it is no longer ‘local?’ If a business grows by franchising, is each of its locations now a separate entity? Or, when does it become ineligible for membership in a local network (such as CLF) as its business structure no longer complies?
What matters to the consumer? Perhaps it is knowing and being known by your local business owner/operator. Or maybe it is just being conveniently located near a customer’s work or home. Or maybe that business gets its products locally, or at least from fairly traded sources.
What matters to the community? For the first responders, it is knowing whom to contact when street disruptions or emergencies occur. For cultural and charitable organizations, it is getting their support for schools or theater groups, or the homeless, or underfed people in the neighborhood.
What matters to colleagues? When we meet at an event, or sit at a board meeting, the locally owned businesses are represented by the owners of companies. We do not have to defer decisions to a higher authority. We speak and act from our personal business experiences and outlooks. While we do not always agree, we DO listen, understand and respect others’ perspectives more clearly because we know that owners understand the consequences of their policies, of regulations, of movements in the marketplace far more intimately than those who are part of a larger corporate structure. We can more easily partner with our owner colleagues, be quick and creative and respond to our community more appropriately than larger businesses with larger reach.
This is, I hope, the beginning of a larger discussion. We welcome your input at all levels: responding to surveys, writing letters, or even writing your own piece on the meaning of Local to you, to all of us.