Previously this year we discussed who could save Appalachia. It’s not one person or one organization, in or outside of the region. It’s all of us. Outside investors can help with their large dollar amounts, organizations can get everyone rallied and directed, but it’s the people who live here who have the most power and greatest chance to change things.
I’ve recently seen a lot of local businesses struggling to get by from week to week, such as Mike’s Hike & Bike in Richmond and London Kentucky. A recent Facebook post discussed a decline in sales and a plea to the community come out and help otherwise the doors would shut and leaving not only a gap in bicycle service but a loss in jobs.
One of the ways that everyone can help make a change in Appalachia, and in fact any neighborhood, is to spend your money at businesses that have a direct impact on your community. By this I mean shopping at locally owned stores.
Local business owners keep the money in the community. They pay taxes where they operate and they hire local people who do the same. Studies have shown that businesses such as Wal-Mart, Target, and other large box stores are allowed large tax breaks and they rarely invest that extra money back into the community. The National Housing Institute’s publication, Shelterforce, recently reported about the effects of Big Box businesses on rural areas and how urban areas are fighting to keep them out of their neighborhoods. The reason why? They’ve already seen how these businesses have damaged the local economy in rural areas.
A study published in the Journal of Urban Economics1 shows that for every 100 jobs that businesses like Wal-Mart create, 140 people are laid off at competing small businesses, unionized grocery stores, and other outlets.
Locally owned businesses are also more likely to employ other locally owned businesses such as carpenters, builders, accounting services, printing, and advertising (watch Fahe Members: Economic Engines for a prime example of this web up support). For every $1,000 in sales, locally owned retailers create an average of $460 in additional economic activity. For big box stores, they only generate $140 for every $1,000.
So if we want to see our rural communities flourish and grow, in fact, if we want to see ANY neighborhoods prosper, we need to put our money in the businesses that will give back to us. We need to support local groceries, barbers, gas stations, restaurants, and clothing stores. Don’t think of it as spending money, think of it as making an investment in your home whenever you go out to buy the essentials. You’re not just buying groceries, you’re ensuring that both you and your neighbors have a supply of food in the future, your roads are paved, you can fix your bicycle, your schools have books, and your libraries stay open. Buying local is an investment in your future, in your friends, in your family, and in yourself. You’re going to spend the money anyways, but spend it in a way that you can give back and create good. This is how you save Appalachia. This is how you save communities. Buy local, give back, and reap the rewards.