With declining government revenues and small-business struggles, the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce decided last week to launch a “shop local” campaign in 2013.
Twenty-two board and staff participants identified the need during a three-day retreat held on St. Simons Island, according to chamber and convention and visitors bureau CEO Leah Poole.
The group ran a similar campaign encouraging people to “Shop Local, Shop Liberty” in 2010, and board members saw the need to revisit the idea.
Chamber Chairwoman Susan McCorkle — who recently closed her restaurant, Poole’s Deli, after 20 years in business — said the board members selected the campaign as a group.
“We pretty much, as a team, try to decide what our focal point is going to be for the year, and we all agreed that with the economy and the way things are going right now, we need to try and get as much of our tax dollars to try and stay here in Liberty County,” McCorkle said.
P.C. Simonton & Associates engineer Marcus Sack was designated to serve as chairman for a campaign committee, which will fine tune the campaign’s action plan.
And while Poole said the group will take heed from the T-SPLOST campaign model it employed to promote the July 31 cent sales tax referendum, Sack said there has to be an education component for the idea to hit home with shoppers.
“When it comes to shopping ‘local,’ we shout it from the rooftops when it comes to ‘Made in the USA’ products, and to a lesser degree with ‘Made in Georgia’ products — but by the time we get to a county or city level, shopping local is rarely a concern,” he said. “The chamber hopes to shift the mindset of our local fellow citizens.”
In taking one step toward retaining local revenue, the Hinesville Downtown Development Authority engaged Arnett Muldrow & Associates to conduct a market analysis that includes retail leakage and inflow projects, according to HDDA Executive Director Vicki Davis.
While Davis has received some preliminary information, she is awaiting the final report and is scheduled to present it Dec. 20 to the Hinesville City Council. The contract for services with the company is $3,000.
The most recent study of its kind was conducted in 2006 or 2007, and such reports are considered out of date after three to four years, she said.
That data will be helpful to the chamber’s mission. So how will the organization reach out and educate consumers?
“That’s what we’ve got to try and figure out,” Sack said. “We’ve got to tighten up our action plan.”
The challenge is to educate consumers that when they are shopping, they also are giving to the community in the form of tax revenue.
That means those who spend their money outside of Liberty County are contributing to other tax bases such as Savannah and Brunswick, which contribute to their road repairs and capital projects.
McCorkle said she did not think about tax impacts until she became involved with the chamber.
“You don’t think about those things, but then you get involved, and you understand that if you don’t (spend your money locally), you’re paying someone else’s school taxes and roads instead of your own,” McCorkle said.
But the issue delves deeper than tax revenues, McCorkle adds. It’s also a matter of economic stability and the quality of life that comes with having options.
“You know, just in my case, if you don’t shop with your local business, whether it’s your restaurants or your automotive place, … all of the small places are going to go to the wayside,” she said.
Sack added that the issue is about strengthening the entire community so everyone will benefit, not just “to get the local businesses rich.”
And shopping locally does not mean avoiding big-box retailers like Walmart — it means making sure to spend your money at in-county locations rather than ones in surrounding areas, Poole added.
“For the chamber, for us, ‘shop local’ won’t be just shopping; it will be staying and all the tourism aspects of it, too,” Poole said. “I don’t want people not to shop at Walmart, because Walmart is local; Walmart is here. But shop at this Walmart. Don’t go to Walmart in Jesup; don’t go to Walmart in Savannah.”
All three acknowledge that some shopping in Hinesville and Liberty County may be harder to find than it would be in another community because it is spread out. That’s one of the fronts the campaign will seek to address.
Poole also acknowledged that sometimes there are not local options for some community needs, which is a function of retail attraction — another element that community leaders, including Poole, are working on.
But when possible, Poole said to take location into account.
“Buy groceries in town, buy gas in town, get your nails done in town,” she said. “You can buy a lot of unique giftware that people just don’t think about.”
Other chamber priorities
The group also will shift its focus from new member recruitment to member retention, Poole said.
With that shift, the group will highlight some of the values it offers.
While networking and community involvement were tied as top member benefits in a recent member survey, Poole said lesser-known benefits include classes aimed at small businesses, communicating business news and group insurance policies.