Scott Cooney here in Denver reporting live on day 3 of the 2009 BALLE conference. I have continued to be incredibly impressed by the level of commitment to green and sustainable communities by this network of locally owned businesses. From the outside looking in, BALLE and other groups of independent, locally-owned businesses are not green by definition. However, in reality, there are few more powerful forces for positive change than these associations.
Think about it. Buying locally sends less money out of the area. Of course, it also means more jobs for the local area. These are well-known and documented facts. It also just makes sense that shortening the supply chain of the products you buy lowers its carbon footprint. In addition, locally owned businesses are much more likely to donate to local environmental and other non-profits, by some estimates 350% more.
And what other organization is going to represent the real economy in Washington? The big business community that is represented by the US Chamber of Commerce, which most media looks to for the business community’s position on issues like labor and climate change, cloud the issues around economic development and don’t have us and our communities in their best interest. We at Triple Pundit have news for you, people: that ain’t the real business community. What I’m witnessing here at BALLE is the real business community…entrepreneurs, Americans with a dream, people with values that include improving their local community. Yes, BALLE represents that hope, that someday the business community that is quoted in the media will be speaking from main street, USA, not from some faraway place. And it may be our best hope of ending taxpayer subsidies for big box development and other forms of corporate welfare.
So here’s a question: how does BALLE help local chapters get started, without compromising their local flavor? The Northern Colorado Chapter has produced one tool that may help fledgling chapters unite their members and their community, educate their citizens, and make money in the process. They’ve developed software that will allow any BALLE chapter to create a coupon book for locally-owned businesses. The Northern Colorado Chapter has produced three coupon books, complete with maps of locally owned restaurants, and enough coupons to occupy a local-firster for a full year…until the next one comes out.
The question inevitably arises…Be Local Northern Colorado, specifically Gailmarie Kimmel, the chapter’s Co-Director, and Paul Jensen and Pam Sutton Gentile of One Tribal Creative, a design firm that is a member of the network, poured a lot of heart and soul into the development of the software and coupon book. If this was a traditional business model, they would want to maximize their return on investment by mass-producing the books for other chapters, doing all the design, layout, and publishing out of Fort Collins, CO, and just paying a local employee to distribute and sell the coupon books in each local chapter’s area. They would find one printer in their local area and print all the books for the entire country and then ship them around, to maximize economies of scale.
But this is the new economy. It’s not about making the same book and just changing out the advertisers. It’s about the advertisers. And the community they represent. So what to do?
Kimmel, Jensen and Gentile gave a workshop about this very issue (as well as some other very important branding and networking issues) at this year’s BALLE conference. They have been challenged by competition from publications that siphon advertising dollars out of their community, and do the publishing, design, layout, writing, and manufacture in other communities thousands of miles away, and ship to Colorado. But each of the three entrepreneurs agree: each local business alliance needs to retain its local flavor.
So they are making a gift to BALLE by donating their work, their sweat equity, to the greater good. The software will be available to other BALLE networks (if they want them), and the intellectual capital will be usable by all. The gift will be malleable. Each chapter can adapt it as they see fit, selling only online coupons, selling coupons of any design they choose, changing the coupon book layout to match their unique environs….or not using any of these tools at all.
This gift is truly inspirational and opens up opportunities for entrepreneurs in other communities to own their own publishing company, rather than centralizing it in one place.
It’s also a wakeup call to businesses in the Locals First movement. If you are advertising in a publication that is not locally owned, it’s not that much different than shopping at a big box store, is it?
Scott Cooney is the author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), and hopes that someday, the green economy will simply be referred to as…the economy.