Columbus “Localists” Energized by BALLE Conference – Part 2

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Note: This is the second half of a two-part article. CLICK HERE to jump back to Part 1 at ColumbusUnderground.com

Bill LaFayette of Regionomics brings an economist’s precision to his assessment of the small business climate in Columbus, and he sees lots of room for improvement. “We have a long way to go,” he said, referencing a study produced (PDF) by Community Research Partners that compared Columbus to some of its peer cities and found that it ranked near the bottom in small business creation, and dead last in percentage of small businesses.

“There’s some sort of blockage, something preventing the formation of small business” lamented LaFayette, pointing out that it wasn’t for lack of quality entrepreneurial resources, citing the Small Business Development Center at Columbus State and ECDI. “There’s got to be a disconnect somewhere.”

LaFayette sees great potential in the so-called “anchor institutions” of Columbus; the hospitals and universities that spend millions of dollars annually on goods and services but often send that money out of the city or even out of the state. BALLE speakers from the University of Minnesota and the City of Cleveland, among others, explained the great positive benefits of redirecting even a small percentage of this money back into the local economy.

A tweet LaFayette send out during the conference sums up the concept; “Every community has a hospital, think of the impact if each one diverted 10% of their spending to their own local economy.”

Another common complaint among the Columbus attendees, and a long-time area of focus for BALLE organizations around the country, is the practice of showering tax incentives on out-of-state businesses in order to lure them to town (or, sometimes, to lure them from the town next door).

“We’re completely upside down (on this issue),” said LaFayette, “the focus needs to be on business retention instead of attraction.” He cited a study that showed that 84% of all jobs are created by companies that are already in the community.

Bob Leighty, of the Parsons Avenue Merchant Association, was attending his second BALLE conference and agreed that the myriad economic development agencies in central Ohio would benefit from a renewed focus on supporting existing businesses and cultivating an environment where entrepreneurship is encouraged and new businesses can thrive.

Leighty said he was energized by his one-on-one talks with leaders in the movement, and hopes to bring some of their good ideas and advice back to Columbus.

Chuck Lynd, the Director of SOLE, was attending his fourth BALLE conference, and was similarly inspired.

“We are doing a lot of great things in Columbus as a community; there are many organizations and leaders out there supporting local retail, spreading the buy local message, and promoting access to community capital.”

He added, though, that what comes next is even more important. Lynd will sit on a national panel charged with creating a new policy agenda for BALLE networks. “There’s a real urgency to get to the next level, to really make progress in rebuilding the local economy.”

For more information, visit www.solenow.org and www.thinkcolumbusfirst.org.