G-Sync: Diversify your dollar

For those folks seeking to create year-round impact in our neighborhoods, there is a new path emerging that is easier than one might think. Publisher Tommy Allen looks at the future of our economy and believes neighborhood businesses contribute to an  increasing value for our citizens. 
By the time Thanksgiving break is over, you will not only have weathered a day devoted to overeating, but will have participated in (or endured) Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and finally, Giving Tuesday. If you try to participate in all of these activities and to the fullness that the advertisers want you to, then it is enough activity to make anyone in need of another vacation by the time you reach today. 

But what about those seeking to create more impact beyond the insanely discounted gifts and tossing cash at nonprofits?

For those folks seeking to create year-round impact in our neighborhoods, there is a new path emerging that is easier than one might think.

Grand Rapids’ Local First, a local nonprofit devoted to our region’s independent businesses,  has propagated for many years that we can impact our region’s overall health by paying attention to the triple bottom line. 

Typically a firm’s health is measured from a straightforward profit and loss financial statement. But for those following a triple bottom line, the focus also includes people and planet sharing equal importance in how we measure success.

Grand Rapids has weathered many economic hiccups over several decades, including the 2008 financial crash. More recently our regional focus of creating value through increased access has provided more room for others to participate and has enabled many to launch locally-owned, independent businesses. 

This focus brings to the landscape a new kind of city providing a fresh foundation where a vibrant but also healthy economies can begin to take root. 

In 2008, Local First conducted a study in Kent County and determined that if we can shift $1 of $10 spending dollars from toward our locally owned independent businesses, then we would create 1,600 jobs, which when you follow the money translates into $140 million in new economic impact here. With this report we began to see a shift to the consumer and how their personal patterns can create an impact for good. 

Looking at this from the statewide level, according to the Michigan Retailers Association, if Michiganders were to begin to think differently about how we direct our dollars by moving to a “buy nearby” model, then we would gain 75,000 jobs resulting in $9 billion in economic activity within the state. 

But this is only part of a successful journey in my opinion, since other factors need to be considered beyond just shopping local. We need an intentionality to create a way to diversify our dollar and it might not be as difficult as one might think.

For starters, by directing our dollars into minority-owned and operated businesses, we can begin to chip away at the inequities that plague even successful cities like ours. And this roll-up-the-sleeves attitude is what makes me proud of being a citizen of Grand Rapids. We are experiencing more and more spaces in our city where talk of important shifts are finally happening. 

Recognizing that some neighborhood districts experience far greater economic advantages over others, a group of social science researchers from France and Spain have unlocked a piece of this puzzle that often plagues our neighborhoods. In their recent June 2017 study, “Crowdsourcing the Robin Hood Effect in Cities,” they have used data to help unlock the possibility of wealth-sharing within our communities worth considering locally.

Now the study is not asking that you give up that favorite burger at East Hills’ Brewery Vivant nor am I saying that you should forgo a new pair of jeans from Denym on Bridge Street NW.  

Instead this new 2017 study simply asks of us, just as Local First study did in 2008, that if we can just divert 5% of our spending to a neighborhood business off our well-worn path, then we can see income inequity begin to be dramatically reduced by up to 80 percent. 

And while we have a lot on our plates this time of the year, it bears reminding that one reason our region may have been spared the economic downward cycle of the last round of hardship felt all around our region was because we, as citizens, already understand the power of supporting local. 

This next step in our evolution as a community has already begun through many organizations in our region like Grand Rapids African American Businesses, West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, West Michigan Asian American Association,  or Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women

These organizations have increased their visibility over the years translating to a community-wide dialogue about the power of supporting local in more impactful ways and then leveraging their contributions through the offering of more options. 

So as we begin a season devoted to much celebration and the propagation of joy, let us begin to think about how not only local businesses have taken the risks in committing to a new way of measuring success as illustrated by our impressive membership at Local First, but how by inserting ourselves, the consumer, into the equation with our dollars, can break the inequities felt here. In solving what other cities are trying to accomplish, we get to show others what is truly possible in a community working together to alleviate the imbalances.

But don’t think I’ve drank the capitalism Kool-Aid or that policy reform doesn’t play a role as well. Far from it. Instead, I ask that we begin, as a region, to understand that as our world shifts, so will we as Grand Rapids, like every other city, begin to wrestle more fully with the imbalance created by older structures and systems that advantages some while leaving others to fend for themselves. 

By applying you to the equation more fully, we can begin to see a bottom up approach begin to emerge locally thus ensuring that we all rise together. 

By diversifying our dollar (and how we share it locally), we can—as more and more studies continue to illustrate—begin to solve some of the immediate needs we are experiencing while we, as locals, prepare in the years ahead to explore the ever-emerging alternative ways of organizing our local, living economies. 

We have made bold moves in the past and I have faith in our capacity to continue to change for good as we welcome new ways of living in our city for the benefit of all.

If you find yourself off the beaten path this year and want to share with Rapid Growth what you discover on your journey to diversify your dollar, be sure to post something on our social media space so we can share in your journey to propagate more joy while alleviating economic suffering.

The Future Needs All of Us.

Tommy Allen
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