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Support for local economy helps us all.

Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Jan Spencer and Evelyn McConnaughey For The Register-Guard

An ideal community includes many ingredients, such as good public schools, a vibrant civic life and a clean environment, along with parks and recreational opportunities. A healthy local economy should also make everyone's list. What makes a healthy local economy? Certainly we could think of reliable employment, useful products and businesses responsive to public needs.

Locally owned businesses tend to be more accountable to their employees and the community. Eugene's experience of giving big subsidies to attract large out-of-town corporations has not worked. Virtually all of those businesses have either underperformed or have left town completely. Big businesses controlled from far away have only passing loyalty to their host communities. Local businesses tend to care more about their employees and the community, and are easier to approach if problems arise.

We use products every day from distant countries that have minimal environmental or workers' rights protections. The prices we pay for these products do not include damage to the environment or to workers' health, cultural identity and self-determination. We, in turn, become ever more affected by distant factors beyond our control such as political instability, weather disruptions, and ever-shifting corporate self-interest. Local business can serve as a buffer to many of the uncertainties of the global economy.

We can support a local economy by buying from local businesses, both retail and wholesale. Buying locally keeps money in the community. Big box retailers' receipts, for example, go directly out of town, while support services are normally contracted out to distant sources and wages include few if any benefits. Multiple studies conclude that purchases from local merchants recirculate money three times more effectively in the community than buying from a big box.

Global trends of petroleum production, consumption and depletion, along with the threat of global warming, lead many energy experts to recommend a transition to renewable energy as quickly as possible. We would be smart to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels for transportation, food production and virtually all the many products derived from petroleum and natural gas. Cars and oil are this country's two most costly imports.

Redesigning and redeveloping Eugene to make it more compact with improved transportation choices provides us with a win-win opportunity to make use of local planners, builders, tradespeople, products and financing. Building on parking lots downtown, redeveloping brownfields and redesigning Eugene so that housing, work and shopping are closer together are all opportunities to make use of local goods and services while accomplishing popular and smart public goals. Even city policy clearly points us in this direction.

Imagine, for example, the area's recreational vehicle manufacturers building state-of-the art bus rapid transit vehicles. They would be well placed to adapt to changing times, would help reduce air pollution, preserve local jobs and keep hundreds of thousands of dollars in the local area rather than being lost to foreign-made vehicles and oil producers.

Businesses and public institutions all over town can support the local economy through purchases and procurements. Cities like Austin, Texas, have set up programs to match purchasing needs of local businesses with local vendors. A community inventory should be made that would identify products, services and skills frequently used by local businesses that are not provided from local sources. If there is a frequent need unfulfilled by a firm in Eugene, that need could be an opportunity for a useful new business. More money stays closer to home.

Eugene banks and credit unions should be particularly supportive of the local economy. They should favor lending to new businesses and community corporations that put civic well being before large profits.

Supporting the local economy is one of the smartest choices for economic development we can make as a community. Redeveloping our urban landscape to make it more compact and resource efficient is a fundamental ingredient and opportunity for a healthy local economy. Eugene and Springfield would benefit greatly by electing local political leaders with the vision and courage to lead and are supported by a public that understands the value of nurturing the local economy.

Jan Spencer is a member of Citizens for Public Accountability. Evelyn McConnaughey is a board member of Friends of Eugene.
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Date:Jan 13, 2004
Words:703
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