Stacy Mitchell’s 2006 E. F. Schumacher Lecture ends with the encouraging news that the decline of local enterprise is by no means inevitable. Implemented broadly the initiatives supporting locally owned businesses springing up all over the country have the capability of ushering out the handful of global corporations that have colonized our communities and replacing them with thriving local economies and vibrant self-reliant communities.
Even with these changes taking place we are still “so hypnotized by the notion that the chain [stores] are somehow a superior and more advanced form of business,” says Mitchell, “that we are blind to how much we lose when locally owned businesses disappear.” Her lecture begins with a recount of those things being lost to multinational chains: the selection and service provided by diverse local retailers; thousands of small family farms; up to 86 cents out of every dollar; the transparency of our production and distribution system; 3 million domestic manufacturing jobs; valuable community assets such as a beautiful view or a quiet neighborhood; the option of walking to the store; the opportunity to build informal social networks; the ability of people to protect the their own communities from unwanted development.
These losses are the result of our collective vision of ourselves as merely consumers. If we see ourselves “not just as consumers but as workers, producers, businesses owners, citizens, and stewards of our communities, [we are more] likely to reject big-box development projects and to endorse measures that force these companies to adhere to higher standards.” Expanding our economic role in the community is the first of four steps that Mitchell believes are crucial to reviving local enterprise.
Step two calls for people to join together in transforming government policy. For decades zoning ordinances “have undermined community, favoring large-scale over small, driving over walking, distance over proximity, and absentee over local ownership.” New rules level the playing field for independent businesses by removing subsides and tax incentives given to corporate chains. Local ordinances could stop the spread of far-flung, car dependent growth and refocus development in historic downtowns and neighborhood business districts.
Step three is a program to help new businesses get started. Mitchell says that, “we…need to actively nurture new businesses in order to achieve what we do want. Imagine if those hundreds of millions of dollars that cities and states spend each year subsidizing corporate retail growth were instead channeled into the development of entrepreneurship programs aimed at rebuilding our local economies.” Nurturing new businesses requires developing a mentorship program to pair veteran business owners with a new generation of entrepreneurs, establishing a retail incubator space under the principles created by community land trusts, and capitalizing new businesses through public pension funds and eventually a local-business mutual find.
Step four is the continued and growing need for “public awareness of the importance of locally owned businesses and the hidden costs and dangers of the corporate economy.” Strategies such as window stickers, buy local advertising and local currencies have made locally owned a selling point, something many residents actively seek.
Mitchell states, “no matter what keeps you awake at night—whether it’s the melting ice caps, peak oil, the threat of terrorism, the power of corporations, or the demise of civic engagement—the solution to all of these problems lies in rebuilding our local economies.” For her, these outlined steps for supporting local businesses are not just achievable, but imperative.
Stacy Mitchell’s 2006 lecture, “Declaration of Independents,” edited by Hildegarde Hannum, is now available in pamphlet form from the Schumacher Center. Cost is five dollars each. Pay with BerkShares, cash, check, or credit card.
The complete text of most all of the lecture pamphlets may also be read online at no cost thanks to the support of Schumacher Center members. Enjoy the fine reading!