Harbinger Consultants

Culture + Complexity + Change

ARTICLE | A New Deal for Local Economies

Are our local economies thriving? In Yes!, Stacey Mitchell of the New Rules Project, a program of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (USA),  says they are taking root in America and that they can be helped along by changing the way we regulate businesses, plan cities, and finance the communities we want. She gives a few examples of what’s happening and succeeding in the US, noting uptake of locally grown food, stronger networks of local businesses and shopping locally. Mitchell has found that:

Some 400 new independent bookstores have opened in the last four years. Neighborhood hardware stores are making a comeback in some cities. Most students graduating from pharmacy school report that they would rather open their own drugstore than work for chain. Last April, even as Virgin Megastores prepared to shutter its last U.S. record emporium, more than a thousand independent music stores were mobbed for the second annual Record Store Day, a celebration of independent record stores that drew hundreds of thousands of people into local stores, became one of the top search terms on Google, and triggered a 16-point upswing in album sales.

There is also a turn away from big brand, homogenous franchises in some communities and she writes “Starbucks, a company that has spent untold millions developing one of the most recognizable brands on the planet, is now beginning to un-brand some of its outlets. The first of these reopened as “15th Avenue Coffee and Tea” in Seattle. Unless you read the fine print on the menu, you would quite easily assume it was an independent coffee house.”

Mitchell says ‘un-branding’ is little more than ‘local-washing’ (think of greenwashing) and ‘local’ is become the new marketing term denoting ‘value’. After so many years having brands shoved at us and working to strengthen brands, it seems that people are more concerned with the culture and identity of their place or community.

She also proposes that new rules are needed to encourage local economies – these include promoting diversity and competition in a way that doesn’t just serve the big banks and corporations, developing local planning that facilitates healthy communities and economies, and exploring new models of finance and investment.


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