Blanding considers Look Local First
by Kara Laws
Blanding has not been exempt, as tourism continues to increase in San Juan County. With this in mind, the Blanding City Council is taking an active role in how the local economy grows.
This was evident at the April 24 meeting of the council, as council talked about a Local First campaign, recognized new local businesses, and discussed an economic development plan.
The Local First campaign is a campaign that was brought to the Blanding chapter of the San Juan Chamber of Commerce on March 19. Local First Utah came to both the city council and the chamber of commerce with a program to present the benefits of citizens shopping locally. They also addressed how Blanding businesses and local government can spread the word and support this campaign.
Local First Utah is “a non-profit organization with the mission to educate the public, the government, and business owners about the value and vitality of locally owned businesses to our economies and community.”
Kristen Lavelett, executive director or Local First Utah, outlined the benefits of shopping locally. She said when you spend $100 in locally-owned stores, $55.33 of that stays in the community.
That is four times the money the community sees if you spend outside of the community or at a big box store. It is, of course, even less if you shop online or out of state.
Lavelett gave job creation as another reason to shop locally. She said while the simple solution to address the need for more jobs seems to be to add more chains and box retailers, the truth is that local businesses are better at creating jobs.
Dependence on a large corporation for employment often has negative results. This dependence can lower local employment diversity, remove money from the community, and risk mass employment on the fate a single, large employer instead of being allowed to spread jobs out and create more stability.
Lavelett reminded council that smaller, local businesses are more important than larger business for economic performance. The small businesses do more to support the community than large box retailers.
Lavelett also covered the benefits of tax dollars staying local when residents and businesses choose to shop here. She warned about the double edge sword when businesses close, bringing attention to the fact that the city doesn’t just lose sales tax revenue, but also property tax.
Lost tax income means less to spend on keeping natural gas prices low, maintaining a well-staffed police force, keeping up with infrastructure, maintaining roads, and funding firefighter trainings. The community as a whole loses as tax revenues stop coming in.
In 2014, Amazon sold $337.4 million worth of goods throughout the country and avoided $22.6 million in state and local tax sales. While Lavelett admits that online purchases will be a part of our lives, she hopes that understanding what is gained with local shopping will help everyone look local first.
“If you can buy it locally, you should buy it locally,” she said.
Mayor Joe B Lyman said he wanted to help locals residents “give this a shot”. He gave a couple personal anecdotes about how easy it is to shop outside of town but stated that shopping locally is “worth the effort to do because there are so many benefits.”
Local First Utah reports that in Utah, independent businesses give three times more to schools and charities than national chains.
The benefits that local businesses give to children and local causes is something that can often go overlooked. These local businesses are the people who help support high school sports, youth rodeos, and local fundraisers and causes.
They donate cash, buy tickets, sell tickets, donate gift cards, give merchandise, etc, and they do it because their community matters to them.
Local First Utah qualifies local business as a business that operates independently, holds 51 percent or more of in-state ownership, is privately owned, has no corporate or national headquarters outside Utah, and pays its own rent and marketing expenses without assistance from a corporate headquarters.
Look for Local First Utah signs throughout Blanding in the next several weeks to help identify which businesses qualify.
“I honestly believe that people here, people in the county, want to support local businesses,” said Councilwoman Cheryl Bowers. “They just need to be reminded of why it is so positive.”
Bowers has been working to reinstate the Blanding chapter of the Chamber of Commerce. She is the council member to bring Local First Utah to council.
For a complete list of ways shopping local benefits you, or to submit your business to the directory, visit localfirst.org.
In other business, the Council approved the economic development plan they have been reviewing. The plan, created by the Planning Commission, is “an official statement of goals and policies for the present and future economic development of Blanding City.”
This plan is put together to help the city make short-term goals that support their long-term plans. The acceptance of this plan means many things for Blanding City and the City Council. Council accepts that leadership from elected officials greatly influences economic development.
The plan is divided into seven elements, including foundation/leadership, quality of life, infrastructure development, workforce development, housing, existing business development, entrepreneur development, and recruiting new business.
Each of the seven elements has a list of goals and how to implement them. Leadership focuses on city council guiding and establishing leadership from council, spreading it to city officials, and then to citizens. It states that good economic development produces jobs, and a good quality of life.
It feels as if Blanding, and San Juan County as a whole, is at a tipping point. The area can plunge into the traffic and overcrowding of Moab, complete with all the national chains, or can create its own path that supports who we are and the reasons we live here.
Blanding City recognizes this and is working to stay ahead of it, use the positive parts of it, and hope to avoid many of the problems that other communities, in similar situations, fell victim to.
Councilman Logan Monson said he liked that the economic development plan was not a tourism plan. He was happy to see it was family oriented, adding that family is important in Blanding and, “Family is who we are.” Monson said he supported this being a plan backed by the city.
Councilman Robert Turk said he felt the development plan needs to be fluid and easily changed. Council agreed and moved to accept the Blanding City Economic Development Plan.
The entire plan can be found online, as well as at the city office.
Mayor Joe B Lyman took the opportunity to present special recognition to a few local businesses. This award was the “New or Expanded Business Recognition” and was presented to three businesses Lyman felt are doing an outstanding job.
Lyman said he is looking for new or expanded street front businesses for this recognition and assured council and all in attendance that while home-based businesses are great, he is looking for brick and mortar locations for the recognitions.
Mayor Lyman presented “New or Expanded Business Recognitions” to Higher Grounds, The Bakery Tanning Co, and Le Pettit Flower Shop.
In other news, Blanding City is officially a cooperating agency in the management plans for the Shash Jaa and Indian Creek units of the Bears Ears National Monument.
Lyman suggested it may occasionally mean that Blanding is credited for help on a plan that they oppose, but in general it is good for the city to have a seat at the table.
The Council also discussed the worry about drought this year. Mayor Lyman said he believes it is drier than any other year in memory and encourages residents, once again, to conserve water.