Columbus “Localists” Energized by BALLE Conference – Part 1
The member organizations of BALLE, the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, are on the front lines of the “buy local” movement – trying to influence shoppers, businesses, and governments to think of their local communities first when making choices about where to spend their money.
The phrase “Local First” was actually coined at the inaugural BALLE conference in 2002. Eleven years later the movement has grown by leaps and bounds, but there is still lots of work to do – and the 600-plus individuals, non-profits, and business owners that gathered in Buffalo last week for BALLE 2013 are as fired up and committed to the cause as ever.
Columbus was well-represented at the conference by it’s own BALLE-affiliated organization, Support Our Local Economy (SOLE), who brought along a group of six local business owners and “local first” advocates. SOLE also extended an invitation to Columbus Underground and The Metropreneur to attend the conference, and I was thrilled to be able to take them up on their offer; I caught some great speakers and spoke at length with the other attendees from Columbus, who were eager to share their thoughts on the conference and on how the “localist” movement in Columbus stacks up compared to that of other cities.
Dan Weisenbach, who runs Weisenbach Recycled Products in Columbus, said he enjoyed hearing about some of the success stories – like Local First Arizona, who convinced the city of Phoenix to change their procurement procedures so that any city contract under $50,000 now goes to the lowest local bidder (as selected from a directory of Arizona companies).
Weisenbach lamented that city purchasing in Columbus is still so regimented; he has to fill out a “ten page form” and then put it up for bid against companies from all over the country.
“It is responsible use of tax payer money to buy from your community,” he said, explaining that the simple act of supporting local businesses creates a virtuous cycle of job creation and greater tax revenues for the city.
Weisenbach sees attitudes changing in Columbus; in the early years of his business, it’s products were better known in cities like Austin, Charlotte and Sacramento than they were in Columbus, and he felt like the powers that be were always looking outward for innovative products and ideas. In more recent years, the tide has started to shift; his business has received recognition and support from the mayor’s office and the community is coming around to the importance of local businesses, as evidenced by the growth of organizations like SOLE, ECDI, Local Matters, Dine Originals and the Small Business Beanstalk.
Jim Coe, who handles Community Relations for local radio station WCBE and serves as Board President for Simply Living, similarly sees a bright future, saying that it’s a fertile time in Columbus for new ideas; “once you get over the initial reaction, which is ‘this sounds like Berkeley’, you see that there’s no reason it can’t happen in Columbus.”
Coe would like to see the local movement grow beyond “bars, restaurants and gin,” stressing that while the progress that has been made is impressive, there’s a whole world of products out there that are hard if not impossible to buy locally…