Posted May 6, 2019

Food for thought: Building the case for buying (renting) local

May 5 to May 11, 2019, is National Small Business Week. Since 1963 this week has been designated to recognize the impact of America's entrepreneurs and small businesses.

Supporting small businesses is more than a purchase; it's an investment in your community. Community revitalization expert Quint Studer says the best way to celebrate and honor small businesses and local entrepreneurs this week—and all year long—is to do business with them.

Shopping locally gives small businesses a chance to showcase how good they are. They get face time with customers who might not regularly be in their stores and shops. And it shows consumers what they might be missing—the personal connections and experiences they crave but most likely won't get from online or big box retailers. 

Ideally, this is more than making a few purchases one week, but instead, turns into a long-term relationship, whereby consumers begin to "shop local" on a regular basis.

"Supporting the small businesses in your community has never been more important," says Studer, author of Building a Vibrant Community: How Citizen-Powered Change Is Reshaping America  and founder of Pensacola, Florida's Studer Community Institute. "Communities need to invest in their small businesses in a meaningful way as they are the key to economic revitalization." 

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, small businesses create two out of every three net new jobs in the private sector. What's more, over half of all Americans own or work for a small business.

Studer says there's a symbiotic relationship between residents and small business owners. They really need each other. Small businesses provide jobs and keep the dollars circulating locally. Their owners have an active and personal interest in the well-being of the community. They live there. Their kids go to school there. They care about what happens.

"When wealth is created, business owners are more likely to turn around and reinvest in the community," he adds.

In many cases, small businesses have taken on an even bigger role to play. Studer says small businesses across America are being called to step in and fill the void created by the loss of their community's "pillar" institutions. By this he means the banks, hospitals, media outlets, etc. that used to be locally owned but that now—thanks to the changes brought about by globalization—exist as part of larger conglomerates. 

"A few decades ago the owners of these 'pillar' businesses were committed to keeping their communities vibrant," he explains. "They knew their economic health depended on it. But now that the owners of these former 'pillars' live elsewhere, they just don't have the same intimate connection to the community."

It makes sense for small businesses to take the lead in pulling communities out of the economic slump many have been in for years. When communities are vibrant, there are more high-paying jobs and people can afford to shop. Quality of life improves. There's more money for schools and programs that lift people out of poverty. Everyone wins.

That's what happened in Pensacola, which in recent years has seen a surge in new businesses and explosive growth in property values. Small businesses have galvanized into a solid group, and they take an active role in the leadership of the community.

The city's business leaders mentor new entrepreneurs. They've put systems in place to ensure that all small business owners are well-trained in the leadership skills they need to thrive long-term. And successful small businesses give back. Studer hopes other communities will use Pensacola's journey as a blueprint.

Many small businesses have made their commitment to their local community part of their brand, says Studer. This is what customers want. The more chaotic and uncertain the world becomes, the more people crave a safe and stable home base. This is a huge trend, and it's taking place all over America.

"This is how you, the small business owner, can compete with the mega-retailers," he advises. "Create an experience for your community. Citizens will know they're being looked after, and they will want to do business locally. This can become your competitive advantage. Take care of the community, and it will take care of you."


The bottom line? Don't shop locally only during Small Business Week. Do it every chance you get, all year long.

"A purchase from a small business owner is an investment in your community," says Studer. "Who better to support than those who are working so hard to create a better future for everyone?"