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THRIVE hosts community business expert

'Buy Local' push turns toward retail and service companies
 Posted: 2:00 AM September 25, 2012

For much of the past decade, The Rogue Initiative for a Vital Economy — aka THRIVE — has focused its energy on local food production and consumption. Now the grassroots organization is turning its "Buy Local — Buy Rogue" efforts toward retail and service companies.

"We knew we couldn't do it all at once," said THRIVE Executive Director Wendy Siporen. "So we started with the food business, one of the building blocks of a local economy along with independent retailers. After six years we're ready to expand into other areas and we're getting a lot of interest."

THRIVE kickstarts its second phase of achieving an environmentally, economically and socially sustainable local economy today when it hosts community-based business advocate Jeff Milchen, cofounder of the American Independent Business Alliance, for an evening at the University Club, 218 W. Sixth St., next to the Holly Theatre in Medford. The event begins at 6:30 p.m., and drop-ins are welcome.

If you go

What: "Buy Local" training event

When: 6:30 p.m. today, Sept. 25

Where: University Club, 218 W. Sixth St., Medford. Drop-ins welcome

The Bozeman, Mont.-based American Independent Business Alliance has dozens of affiliates from Puget Sound to Naples, Fla., advocating the benefits of buying from locally owned merchants and service providers.

"There are organizations such as THRIVE across the country whose goal is to create a culture shift," Milchen said Tuesday. "Our role at AMIBA is to nurture the shift and ultimately have that reflected in state and local policies."

The Minneapolis-based Institute for Local Self-Reliance tracks the impact of organizations such as THRIVE on a national scale each year. In areas where those organizations are advocating for independent business, there is a 7 percent growth for local business over the past five years, according to ILSR research, versus 2 percent in communities without such backing.

"That's a pretty whopping difference, Milchen said. "It's the difference between falling slightly behind the rate of inflation or staying well ahead of it. That could mean the difference between success and failure for a number of businesses."

Milchen said organizations pursuing local expenditures have attracted a following in both urban and smaller population areas in all parts of the country, with alliances in communities with a few thousand to a few million residents.

"The majority are in communities between 25,000 and 75,000, so the Medford-Ashland area is fairly typical," he said. Geography often comes into play when buyers weigh their options.

"For many folks in smaller towns, the question is whether to stay in town or leave to purchase or contract with companies outside the area," Milchen said. "In larger cities, more frequently the choice is not to drive out of the city but whether to go to local, independent business or absentee-owner, chain-store or franchise (operations). It's a slightly different equation when you're talking about online retailers, but it's a big challenge either way."

Oregon merchants face less pressure from online sellers, because there is no sales tax, he said. "It's a massive handicap in other states," he said.

While big boxes are often considered the major competitor, the buy-local movement has changed how national chains market themselves. "You see Walmart advertising local products and major chains talking about local products," Milchen said. "In some cases they are bragging about the local purchasing and procurement, and in other cases they are exaggerating. The trend for chains jumping on the buy-local bandwagon is welcome if it creates more opportunity for small producers rather than buying everything from a global supplier. That's a good thing, but folks should be skeptical in many cases."

When consumers make a conscious choice to support local entrepreneurs, the movement will consider itself successful, he said.

"Our message is not about size, small versus big," Milchen said. "There are some realms where size is essential to succeed. It's tough for a community bank to survive without branches throughout multiple communities these days."

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Reach Mail Tribune reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or email

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