Monday, June 22, 2009

Buy Bonner Campaign Set to Kick Off By Summer's End

Last March when the Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce announced the formation of a buy-local task force, the community response was impressive.

Since then, an increasing number of individuals and businesses have come together to help implement the plan to encourage residents to purchase goods and services from local businesses.

The as-yet unofficial name of the campaign is Buy Bonner. The program is set to launch at the end of the summer.

A response to a struggling economy, the Buy Bonner campaign has partnered with Spokane’s recently launched Buy Local program to promote a regional effort to support local communities.

“We have been discussing and promoting the notion of keeping money locally for quite some time,” said Amy Little, the executive director for the Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce. “Rather than re-create the wheel, we started looking at what other communities were doing and invited the Spokane Chamber to find out how they put theirs together. It was then that we found out that they have been planning on using their program to drive a regional buy-local program. We were thrilled to learn that we could partner with them.”

Kim Diercks, community development officer at Panhandle State Bank in Sandpoint, serves on the Buy Bonner task force. Diercks and her husband owned a local restaurant which recently fell victim to the struggling economy. Her personal experience, coupled with what she sees in her work in the financial industry, are reasons why Diercks feels it is critical to promote shopping locally whenever possible.

“One of the slogans of Spokane’s campaign is ‘Keep Our Neighbors Working,’ and with closing the restaurant, that strikes home,” said Diercks.

Committee members say that educating people about the ramifications of taking business away from the community is vital in its campaign.

“We know we can’t do much about the national economy, but what we can do is support each other by becoming aware of how much it costs all of us when we take our money out of our community,” said Diercks.

Little said that simply putting up signs to encourage people to purchase locally is not the answer.

“People need to understand why staying local is important,” said Little. “It doesn’t matter if it’s shopping, dining or linen service. Whatever it is, people need to see the big picture. People don’t think about where that dollar travels in the community and how much of an impact it makes. That is really the task ahead of us.”

One idea the committee has come up with to help promote Buy Bonner is to provide workshops to train businesses on how to make the transition from being competitors to working in a cooperative environment.

“We have a group called Sandpoint Transition Initiative and I think they will be working on the competitive-to- cooperative model with our community,” said Little.

Other ideas include providing a logo for businesses to display if they are participating in the campaign as well as providing a training program for participating businesses.

“We want to include any employer in our area because they create jobs, pay payroll and taxes,” said Diercks, who said any community member is welcome to join their efforts whether they own a business or not. “On our buy local committee, we have representatives from the Chamber of Commerce, Ponderay Community Development Corporation, Bonner County Economic Development Corporation and Downtown Sandpoint Business Association.”

Little agrees that it is important to seek input from as many people and businesses as possible.

“Nothing this great can be done alone. We want to gather community leaders and members who are concerned and create a program to truly benefit the entire community,” Little said. On the committee is Meadow Summers, one of the founders of the new Six Rivers Market in Sandpoint. Six Rivers is a local cooperative that brings together producers and consumers of food and products within 250 miles of Sandpoint. Summers joined the task force because she believes it is important to do what she can to support the local economy.

“Six Rivers Market is about products that are crafted and produced locally,” said Summers. “A major goal for Six Rivers Market is to encourage more local production. Although we focus on food and agricultural items, by supporting all local businesses we can help achieve our goal.”

Summers adds that while there are people in Sandpoint who will drive farther to save a few dollars, there are also many people who clearly see the benefits of shopping locally.

“(They) see through the ‘cheaper prices’ and realize shopping locally is a much more economical choice in the long run by keeping dollars local and supporting local jobs,” said Summers. As part of its campaign, the Buy Bonner committee will encourage participating businesses to offer residents a percentage or dollar amount reduction in prices for goods and services.

Diercks said education and communication will be a large part of the campaign since many people are not aware of all the items that can be purchased locally.

“We just want people to spend money consciously, rather than just assuming that a great deal online is always better, or that everything is cheaper at Costco,” said Diercks, who agrees with Summers that when you factor in gas for out-of-town shopping trips, items are not necessarily cheaper.

Little says that shopping locally will have a different meaning to different people.

“Those big-box stores are just as important to our local economy,” said Little. “Many of them are members of local business organizations, but even more important, they employ many members of our community who otherwise may be unemployed. It really is about education. People don’t always realize the impact of a dollar in our community, whether it’s from a tourist or a local or a big-box store. All of it is important.”

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