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Homegrown: Think You Know All the Benefits of Buying Local? Here are a Few You May Have Missed, San Antonio


  • Courtesy of the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center
As we head into the holiday season, the Current’s annual Buy Local issue aims to highlight local makers and artisans and provide gift ideas that can keep your hard-earned dollars in the Alamo City.

The familiar refrain from shop-local advocates is that there’s a civic benefit to helping out local entrepreneurs — namely that the dollars we spend translate into jobs, wages and benefits for people in our community.

To be sure, there’s economic research to back up that argument, but there’s also a wealth of data that shows shopping local has benefits beyond providing paychecks to folks in our hometown.

“When you support local businesses, you’re not just supporting jobs, you’re investing in your economy,” said Janie Barrera, CEO of San Antonio-based LiftFund, a nonprofit that provides loans for small businesses unable to borrow from traditional lenders such as banks.

Barrera’s organization estimates that every $1 it loans yields a $14 return on investment for the San Antonio community, not just in jobs but also income for families and new tax revenue.

Indeed, recent economic studies suggest that retail conglomerates are more likely to skirt their tax obligations than small, locally owned businesses. That’s means more money is likely to flow to municipal coffers when shoppers spend with local makers and retailers.

Another advantage of buying locally is the ability to make informed choices, experts point out. As more consumers worry about the quality safety of food they put into their bodies and the ethical sourcing of materials, doing business locally allows them to more easily ask questions before they spend.

Need more convincing about the benefits of buying local?

Economic research suggest shopping with homegrown businesses offers benefits from reducing pay disparity to improving community health. Here’s a sampling of studies compiled by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a 45-year-old group dedicated to pushing back at corporate consolidation:
A 2012 examination of Salt Lake City-area businesses found that independently owned retailers returned more than half of their revenue to the local economy, compared to just 14 percent for national chains. Why was that? The indies spent more on local labor, locally sourced goods and services from other local businesses.

The consolidation of large corporations at the expense of smaller ones in the U.S. and U.K. contributed to the growing income inequality in both countries, according to a 2015 academic study. While big corporations tend to pay highly skilled workers better than small businesses do, low- and middle-skill workers are often paid less at big businesses than at small ones, potentially fueling wage disparity.

A community’s overall wellbeing is tied to its number of locally created businesses, according to several studies, including a 2011 analysis from the Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy, and Society. That particular study showed U.S. counties boasting vibrant small-business sectors faced lower rates of mortality and a lower prevalence of obesity and diabetes, which it chalked up to “collective efficacy” — the idea that residents act together for mutual gain.

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