By Susan Odum Extension Educator Community & Economic Development University of Illinois Extension
In this season of giving thanks, it is fitting that we “Show Some Love” for our small businesses and entrepreneurs. Our local businesses are a reflection of our region’s unique character. They help define who we are and play an integral role in making our region a great place to live, work, and play.
Local business owners live in our rural communities, are our friends and neighbors, and have a personal vested interest in the region’s long-term success. Our local businesses contribute economically to their communities through real estate and income tax payments, they provide local jobs, and in some cases generate sales and/or motor fuel tax payments in support of state and local government budgets.
Yet their contributions to the community typically don’t end there. Representatives of the local business community often devote their personal time to service on local boards, organizations, and committees. Not only do they undertake leadership positions with their local Chamber of Commerce, they also serve other organizations, such as Rotary and Kiwanis. They may also be found reading a book to a kindergarten class or committing their personal time to a community project.
Local business owners also take time out of their busy work schedules to: play a “shark” during a Shark Tank activity in a local high school business class; share their business expertise at youth entrepreneurship events; champion new youth leadership development programs, like CEO (Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities); mentor students on the skills needed to start their own businesses; or invest in their community’s future by supporting youth entrepreneurship education programs.
However, one of their most vital contributions to the community is often underappreciated, overlooked, or perhaps unknown. Therefore, there is no better time to remind the residents of Illinois that Spending Locally First ensures that the local business community can continue to support student and community activities.
Business contributions take many forms. Local businesses purchase the advertisements hidden in the back pages of school yearbooks. Their logos appear on event t-shirts, contributions that provide the funding necessary for local organizers to host events, like Farm & Community Safety Day. Their contributions also take the form of monetary donations to local fundraisers or the contribution of items for a silent auction or gift basket giveaway.
Businesses donate monies to our local schools, perhaps for team jerseys, a new wrestling mat, or a scoreboard. They sponsor family fun, coloring contests, corn hole tournaments, golf scrambles, leadership conferences, youth soccer, after prom, and local organizations, like 4-H. They also host “family movie night” in the park, contribute to the annual “Shop with a Cop” program, accept donations for the winter coat drive, teach kids about saving money, help out after a disaster, grill hotdogs at community events, and contribute to make someone’s Christmas a little more special. So as you go about your daily routine, whether you are scrolling through your Facebook News Feed, reading the local newspaper, or sitting in the stands at a local sporting event, I encourage you to start seeing the many, many ways that our local businesses support their communities. Perhaps, you will find one of our local businesses: honoring local veterans; cheering on the home team; sponsoring an Easter Egg Hunt; raising monies for local scholarships; providing grants to teachers for classroom supplies; giving away tickets to a season opener; hosting a customer appreciation day; passing out candy at a Halloween event; serving hot cocoa during a Christmas tree lighting ceremony; throwing candy in the local parade; or donating computers to the local school.
“During my interactions with the local business community, I often ask for a ‘show of hands’ to the following questions: 1) How many of you are asked to make a donation or contribute to a local community event or organization? and 2) How often are you asked to contribute? To the first question, typically every hand in the room goes up and when I inquire as to how often they are asked to contribute, surprisingly, I often hear that they receive daily requests for support. In contrast, when I speak to non-profits or youth groups, I often inquire if anyone is involved with fundraising for their school or community organization. Typically, someone in the audience will be a member of a committee – whether it’s for the yearbook, the school newspaper, the local sports team, the PTO, or another type of local fundraiser. During my interactions with these groups, I often ask ‘as members of a fundraising committee, who do you, ask for support’ and the typical response is ‘we ask our local businesses for support.’ – Susan Odum, University of Illinois Extension
So I encourage each of you to “Start Seeing Local”. Our local businesses are the first place residents go when they need to raise money for a school or community activity, however, “perceived” lower cost alternatives available outside the local community have become our first choice for spending our discretionary income and contracting for services. As a result, each year we can anticipate having fewer and fewer local businesses, less and less local character, and scarcer and scarcer resources to support local activities.
Our local business owners demonstrate their commitment to the future of their communities every day, in so many ways. “As consumers, we have the power to shape the future of our communities, so if you love your community, take pride in it, and Spend Locally First whenever possible” - Susan Odum, University of Illinois Extension
MARION CHAMBER OF COMMERCE 2305 West Main St PO Box 307 Marion, Illinois 62959