Local First Arizona, which champions supporting local economies, is itself open for business.
That’s the message from Kimber Lanning, the founder and executive director of the 3,200-member group, whose mission is to help people understand how important it is to shop locally and keep money in the economy.
For business owners, one way to connect to Local First is through its classes, workshops, accelerator program, networking and lending opportunities in the coming year, Lanning said.
Based in Phoenix, Lanning will be in Green Valley Jan. 22 for a program co-sponsored by Green Valley Economic Development and the Green Valley/Sahuarita Chamber of Commerce. The topic is “Building Self-Reliance in Rural Arizona.”
She’ll also be talking from her perspective as a small-business owner and provide examples and strategies attendees can bring directly to their businesses and community – or, as she calls it, “leveraging your localness.”
From her perspective, “I would call Green Valley rural, even though you have easier access” to a large urban area like Tucson, she said. While not as geographically isolated, as a smaller community in terms of population, there are challenges, Lanning said.
With an economy largely dependent on the influx of seasonal visitors, Lanning said this fact means growing the workforce is a hurdle, making the case for more self-employment based around unique skills, interests or talents that can find a consistent customer base.
For past Local First Arizona clients, this has ranged from jump-starting enterprises selling condiments like pickles and jellies, to wedding cakes, a cleaning service and specialty auto services.
Rural Arizona also has massive economic leakage, Lanning said, with online sellers like Amazon the biggest threat to small businesses. Too many consumers in places like Green Valley also travel to Tucson to spend their money with large, national retail chains.
Lanning said there are countless ways to go local, as demonstrated in a ten percent shift study that showed that, in a city the size of Tucson, if everyone shifted ten percent of their spending from a big national company to a local company, it would generate $130 million new dollars.
Local First Arizona connects businesses to each other via an online directory, and offers programs jointly with Small Business Development Centers throughout Arizona.
At its Tucson office, Local First programs include the Food and Farm Finance Forum for growers to expand their businesses, create jobs and increase their distribution of healthy local foods; and the Fuerza Local Business Accelerator program that’s open to Latino entrepreneurs with classes taught in Spanish.
Local First Arizona also hosts an annual Rural Policy Forum, which brings hundreds of small town business owners together for workshops, classes and networking.
The 14th annual forum heads to Green Valley in August, and will attract several hundred rural economic development professionals, nonprofits, community leaders and other rural stakeholders interested in sustaining rural communities.
“Attendees will have a wonderful time exploring the Green Valley/Sahuarita area while also learning best practices from their peers through a heavily-packed agenda of programming,” Lanning said. The program will be held at the Madera Clubhouse at Quail Creek.
According to a new annual impact report from Local First Arizona, the nonprofit played a role in creating 137 jobs in 2018. The organization has had 536 students complete its programs since 2013.
According to the report, those graduates generated over $6 million in gross sales last year.
Lanning said small businesses often have difficulty gaining access to build capital.
She said large banks are not interested in making small business loans, in amounts of up to $25,000.
To help fulfill those needs, Local First launched a micro-lending fund with mining company Freeport-McMoRan.