Michael Peel

Local First Arizona has advocated on behalf of Tucson’s locally owned businesses since 2008, when the first Southern Arizona office opened. 

Since then, we have seen our city thrive with unique businesses that give our diverse neighborhoods the character that makes us proud to call Tucson home. Many people know our organization as a “buy local” coalition, but there is much more involved in our efforts to build a great place.

To accomplish our goals, Local First has enacted a multi-pronged approach to growing the economy, including our business coalition, which represents over 3,000 locally owned, independent enterprises statewide, and over 500 in Southern Arizona. 

Our sister organization, the Local First Arizona Foundation, also includes diverse, robust programs such as building healthy, local food systems through the Good Food Finder website at goodfoodfinderaz.com, the For(u)m sustainable-development coalition focused on the man-made environment and the Fuerza Local Business Accelerator, which helps under-served micro-entrepreneurs build a credit score so they can access credit at fair-market rates. 

Our foundation also runs the state’s Rural Development Council throughout Southern Arizona, supporting communities with innovative programs, technical assistance and marketing for in-state tourism.

All of Local First’s resources focus on the overarching goal of building sustainable and resilient local economies. Studies have shown that up to four times more money stays in the local economy when residents spend at locally owned businesses instead of national chains. 

That means more money stays in Tucson, creating more jobs and wages right here, locally. Secondary and tertiary jobs, such as accountants, graphic designers and payroll service providers, are supported by local businesses that hire other local businesses, creating a multiplier effect. 

Additionally, local banks and credit unions are much more likely to lend to local businesses than their big bank counterparts, and Local First advocates heavily in support of banking local.

Our buildings are a key part of a successful local economy and can be the vital incubator spaces for small and local businesses to thrive. A recent study titled “Older, Smaller, Better,” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Preservation Green lab found cities that preserve older buildings perform better overall, including more jobs per block, more businesses owned by women and people of color and more young professionals. 

Cities can unlock the potential of these spaces by removing barriers, such as outdated zoning codes and parking requirements, and streamlining permitting and approval processes.

According to Local First founder and Executive Director Kimber Lanning, economic developers should frame compelling cases for overhauling policies around building code and the adaptive reuse of existing buildings. 

Repurposing older buildings means increased spaces for creating new ecosystems of jobs and place-based vibrant communities. Our For(u)m initiative is one example of our efforts in the “smart growth” area. We are also a key partner in the Tucson Emerging 2030 District working to reduce energy, water and transportation emissions for our buildings by at least 50 percent by 2030 for substantial budgetary savings.

Great places are built by the people who live in them, and Tucsonans have always voted with their wallets to be sure our community remains unique, diverse and thriving. 

Still, we have a number of challenges ahead related to how our city is growing. These growth challenges will require ongoing thoughtful conversations about who we want to be in order to avoid development pressures, such as homogenization, so that downtown does not lose its unique culture and sense of place. 

We also need to spread the wealth beyond downtown and across the entire city and region. The Local First team looks forward to leading many of these discussions to create a community and economy where all Arizonans can thrive.

This is the first in a regular series of columns from Local First Arizona on local sustainable economy issues. Get involved as a member or volunteer of LFA by signing up at localfirstaz.com 

(1) comment

MarcioWilges

What I think really helps a business to survive would be community support - such as that my business has enjoyed providing storage services to the neighbourhood. Getting to know your customers well and forming a bond with them also helps! Those friendships go above and beyond a business providing customers with some goods or services.

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