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Campaign pushes 'buy local' benefits to community

Becker Market, offering merchanise from local businesses and vendors, has been a success during its short run. Tribune photo by TJ Jerke

A campaign to encourage local government entities, businesses and residents to shop locally has been launched by the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, Main Street and the Kandi Mall Association.

The "Buy Local First" campaign is designed to educate consumers about what happens when their dollars are put into the pockets of a locally-owned business and what could happen to a community when those business dollars go elsewhere.

If everyone would stop, think twice and buy local it would "help the local economy a little bit more," Chamber President Ken Warner told the Kandiyohi County Commissioners this week.

He estimates that more than $1 billion leaves Kandiyohi County each year by businesses who don't shop in their own community. That doesn't include spending by individuals, governments or non-profit entities.

Money spent in the county reticulates in the form of wages, supplies and services and keeps businesses open, which helps generate taxes for schools and local government, Warner said.

Commissioner Richard Larson said Kandiyohi County purchases much of its services and goods locally.

While holding up the latest printout of the county's bill, Larson said 90 percent of the payments went to county businesses.

Local electricians, plumbers and contractors are used frequently for county projects, said County Administrator Larry Kleindl in a later interview.

Many buildings materials, tires, batteries, office supplies and lawn mowers are purchased locally.

"We do everything possible to get it local," said Kleindl, while still making sure local tax dollars are spent wisely.

If a local business is able to provide goods that are close in price to what's offered through a state buying cooperative, Kandiyohi County will opt to purchase the items locally, he said.

For example, the county purchases many of its squad cars from Atwater Ford because they're able to match the price offered by outside businesses involved with the state coop bid.

When local vendors can't compete, however, purchases are made elsewhere.

"Some things you can't get here, but we try to get as much as possible," said Kleindl.

When sealed bids are required for projects, the county is required by law to take the lowest bid.

"We hope local contractors get the bid, but you can't control that," said Kleindl. "We know the impact it is on our local economy to buy locally and we're excited about this new campaign," he said.

According to the campaign material, $68 of every $100 spent at a locally-owned business stays in the local economy.

Shopping at a non-locally owned store, like a national franchise located in town, keeps $43 of every $100 in the local economy.

Shopping online puts nothing into the local economy.

A logo that's part of the campaign is being used by a growing list of local businesses as part of their print advertising. Some use the logo with their electronic signs or websites, said Gary Laughlin, a business owner and member of the Chamber's board of directors.

Warner said he appreciates the county's dedication to buying locally. He said he hopes everyone "gives the locals an extra look."

Commissioner Harlan Madsen told Warner that some Willmar stores need to improve their customer service in order to gain local business.

Madsen said he hears from people who say they "don't feel welcome" in local businesses and shy away from shopping there because of a lack of customer service.

He said the county is working hard to improve its customer service relations and he urged Warner to let businesses know they need to do the same.

In a later interview, Warner said he is well aware of those complaints and that the Chamber has held seminars for local businesses to help them improve customer service. He said it's usually the ones who are doing things right who attend.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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