The second goal of Greater Peoria’s economic development strategy is to “Expand Economic Performance”. The goal is filled with strategies you would expect to find: Create new, high quality jobs; increase the number of mid-size firms; and increase the pace of innovation, entrepreneurship and annual business starts. That direction forms the backbone of much of what we do here at GPEDC, including our efforts to develop new businesses, grow the businesses that are already here, and attract new businesses.
I recently got to thinking about another way we can all pitch in to expand economic performance – shop local. Now I’m sure you’ve heard the important mantra of shopping local for the past few years. And groups like the Stewardship Alliance have great tools like the Buy Fresh Buy Local Guide to help you support our region’s food economy. I certainly encourage you to look at your individual and household spending practices and find ways to keep your dollars in the community rather than sent to Mr. Bezos and his friends at Amazon. But shopping locally isn’t just about your personal habits. It can also be about how and where your company or organization spends its money.
This really hit home when I attended a recent seminar on community development organized jointly by the “Invest Health” teams from Peoria and Bloomington. One of the presenters was Tommy Pacello of the Memphis Medical District Collaborative. He described an effort by a group of closely-located medical and educational institutions in downtown Memphis to start investigating their own purchasing power. They found that they collectively purchased nearly $350 million in goods every year, from software to legal services to food. Yet only $50 million of that was purchased from local sources. The group has now formed a collaborative purchasing team to try to move the needle on local spending.
The results of such an effort can be twofold. First, the local economy wins when businesses purchase goods and services from each other. That is one of the underpinnings of organizations like the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce. But just as important is developing companies to meet demands when a product or service cannot be found locally. Every time a company is forced to look outside the region for something there exists a problem that could be solved by a local entrepreneur. This is the way we expand our regional economic performance: existing businesses grow and new businesses are formed.
We don’t need to create a fancy collaborative effort in order to get results. Take a look at where your company purchased goods and services last month. Ask your purchasing folks (and that might be you!) to see if there were local options to consider. Make a conscious effort to shop locally whenever it makes business sense to do so. Ironically, many of the businesses in our region count on a customer base that is also within the region. When you shop locally, even if it costs slightly more than some on-line deal, you are helping to increase the pool of potential customers for your own business. And if there are things you just cannot find in the area, give us a call and the GPEDC staff can start investigating how a new business might be created.