Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Why “Buy Local” Should Replace “Buy American”

In the ‘80s, I knew a lot of people who insisted on only buying American-made cars. Nowadays, though, it’s tricky to figure out what qualifies as “Made in America.” Honda, Toyota, and Nissan all have US-based plants. Nike, Patagonia, Gap and Wal-mart, are just a few of the brands that have most of their merchandise made offshore. We import food from all over the world, and sell most of it in US-owned stores staffed with US employees.

With jobs being slashed in industry after industry, people are increasingly aware of the connection between what they buy and where that money goes. The House-passed fiscal stimulus bill makes it clear that protectionism is on the rise - not out of patriotism, but out of economic self-interest.

Can consumers hoping to support their domestic economy buy Nike, Wal-mart, Toyota or the others and stay true to their conscience? Should we consider the “domestic content” of what we consume, and assume the higher the better? How would consumers figure it out? It’s time to let go old notions of protectionism and adopt a “Buy Local” mindset.

Just what does “Local” mean? Local stores can be part of a chain. They can sell merchandise from elsewhere (including other countries). And they can hire or be owned by people from elsewhere, too. What makes stores local is that they’re nearby - they’re in the neighborhood.

My Top 5 reasons for supporting local businesses are that they:
  1. Provide jobs for the people who live nearby

  2. Contribute to the tax base of their communities, which makes better schools, roads, police, fire, sewage and other services available to residents

  3. Also contribute to a vibrant sense of community by supporting local charities and events

  4. Can best fulfill local preferences and needs because they know us better through interacting with us day in-day out

  5. Demonstrate that people we all know work hard and give back
It’s not realistic to think we can buy everything we need in our neighborhoods – stores in most residential neighborhoods simply don’t offer the selection or the pricing. And change is an incremental process, anyway. It starts by buying more locally than we have historically, making the 10+ mile trip to the mall a little less often and spending a little less at those stores when we do go.

Many retailers have deepened their connection to the local communities they serve lately. While some people don’t view chain stores as part of the local retail scene, I disagree. Here are a few examples that illustrate why:

  • Macy’s – is rolling out its successful MyMacys program across the chain to return merchandise decision making to local stores

I’m going to try the “Buy Local” argument the next time I’m with people who spout off about protectionism and buying American. Wish me luck!

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