By Vale Jokisch
Over the past two years we have heard countless mentions of the enormous bailouts for Wall Street and the concurrent ongoing woes on Main Street. Just last week President Obama sent a proposal to Congress to create a $30 billion fund for small and medium banks in order to encourage lending to struggling small businesses. It is against this backdrop that the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies is hosting its 8th Annual Business Conference in Charleston, South Carolina, from May 21-23. The theme of this year’s conference is “Lighting the Way to a New Economy” by encouraging individuals to “Be Your Own Bailout.” In other words, by supporting and promoting locally-owned, socially-responsible businesses, individuals can rebuild their community Main Streets at the grassroots level.
Following in that theme, this year’s conference will include discussions on community-owned job creation, local manufacturing supply chains, food, and fuels, social finance and community capital, and new ways of defining growth for locally-owned business. The conference gathers thought leaders including author Michael Shuman (The Small-Mart Revolution), Seventh Generation Co-Founder Jeffrey Hollender, and RSF President Don Shaffer “to explore innovative best practices in growing community health and wealth.” I will be posting from the BALLE conference next week, and welcome your comments on topics and speakers you would like to hear about.
So what is a “local living economy?” According to BALLE, it is a community whose “needs are met locally by locally-owned enterprises.” In turn, those local enterprises recycle money into the community, giving way to a more stable economy and secure jobs and a more equitable distribution of income and ownership. For some the term is synonymous with the “farm-to-table” movement which has gained momentum with the growing number of restaurants touting locally-sourced ingredients (in fact, this is where BALLE Co-Founder Judy Wicks got her start). For others, it means making the simple decision to visit the neighborhood mom-and-pop coffeehouse rather than hitting up a Starbucks for their morning fix. However, the scope of a living economy goes well beyond the often thought of neighborhood retail and service sectors. Innovators like Lyle Estill, founder of the grassroots biodiesel cooperative Piedmont Biofuels and author of Small is Possible, are trying to demonstrate that “local” may in fact be the (somewhat) counterintuitive answer to international hot button issues like energy independence.
What do you think: What does a local living economy mean to you? Have local businesses and networks contributed to economic recovery in your communities? What are the major challenges to promoting local economies in the face of increasing globalization? And is global necessarily exclusive of local, or is there such a thing as a global network of local economies?
Vale Jokisch is a first year MBA student at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and is interested in how for-profit businesses are finding innovative ways to create social and environmental value. Her specific interests are around community economic development, local economies, and impact investing. Prior to enrolling at Fuqua she was the Deputy Director at Empowerment Group, a non-profit microenterprise development organization based in Philadelphia. Vale has a BA in Economics and Political Science from Swarthmore College.