By Chelsea Eddy
First published in The Missoulian
Montanans pride ourselves on independent thinking, ingenuity and self-reliance, and that attitude is reflected in Montana’s entrepreneurial spirit. According to the Small Business Administration’s latest Small Business Profile, Montana is home to more than 115,000 small businesses (defined by the SBA as employing fewer than 500 people), comprising 97.4 percent of all Montana businesses. Montana’s small businesses not only are large in number, they’re also the largest source of jobs across the state, employing 67.4 percent of all Montana private-sector workers, compared to an average of 48 percent nationally.
We also start businesses at higher rates than most states. According to the Kauffman Foundation, each month 0.5 percent of Montanans launch a new business venture, compared to 0.33 percent nationally.
While not all of us will be directly involved in running a business, we all have an important role to play in supporting Montana’s entrepreneurial success. As many of us look to bestow gifts upon friends and family, we also have the opportunity to give a gift to our community. When making our holiday purchases, we can give local independent businesses the opportunity to earn our business.
Chain and online stores may often win if our decisions consider cheapness alone, but that cheap appliance or piece of furniture ceases to be a “bargain” if it breaks down prematurely. Consider the many makers, artists and manufacturers who produce their products right in Montana, often with locally sourced materials.
Bitteroot Bison in Missoula can supply you with locally raised and produced bison meat for your holiday meal. Bob’s Country Pine Furniture in Great Falls handcrafts home furniture and decor. Maybe you have the perfect gift in mind but aren’t sure where to find it locally? Made in Montana, an online directory searchable by product type and location, helps find locally made products that literally could be just around the corner!
Local, independent businesses help employ many more people than those on the sales floor. They’re more likely to bank and source locally than absentee-owned businesses while employing services like accountants, graphic designers, sign-makers, webmasters and other skilled positions.
Since chain stores or restaurants typically are clones of other units; they eliminate the need for most local planning and typically use a minimum of local goods and services. And profits are exported to corporate headquarters. That’s simply good, efficient business for them, but not for the host community.
Purchasing from Amazon or other remote online retailers provides virtually no economic benefit to your community. The American Independent Business Alliance calculates that 1 percent of the cost of an online purchase will go back into your community – if the delivery person is a local resident.
On average, more than three times as much of each dollar spent at a local, independent store recirculates in your local economy compared to a dollar spent at chain outlets. Capitalizing on this local multiplier effect is key to creating jobs and wealth in our own communities.
While we don’t have to swear off ever shopping online or at a chain store, we should look for ways to integrate widely held values into our purchasing decisions. If most of us shifted even one or two purchases to independent, community-based businesses this season, we would create dramatic, positive changes in our local economies and help induce new jobs in Montana.
Local non-profit organizations depend largely on the contributions of local businesses who, in turn, depend on our patronage. If we value local business support for our kids’ sports teams or our favorite charities, we must recognize they can’t do it without us.
The long-term relationships fostered by local business also cement commitment to civic institutions like schools, churches and fraternal leagues that aid not just economic prosperity, but community cohesion and trust.
So do yourself — and your community — a favor this year by shifting a bit more spending to your local merchants, service providers, artisans and others. Along with helping your neighbors and community, you may just find “going local” turns holiday shopping into a far more relaxing and enjoyable experience: one that rewards both you and your community.
Chelsea Eddy was the engagement coordinator for the American Independent Business Alliance at the time of writing. Contact AMIBA if you’d like to adapt this commentary using examples from your own state or community (we provide a thorough primer on writing guest commentaries, as well as assistance with editing and placement).