Local First Arizona founder, Kimber Lanning, spoke to a crowd at Arizona State University this semester about how to build a better city through buying locally.
“We have to work really hard to educate people about what our companies are, what do they have to offer, what are they doing in our communities,” Lanning said.
According to Lanning, a crucial step in helping local economies is simply shopping local.
“You don’t have to spend more money to go local. Sometimes it’s just a shift in our behavior,” Lanning said.
ASU’s Tempe campus welcomed Lanning and her speech on “Building Great Places”, one of many lectures in a series for ASU’s Sustainability school.
In 1987, 19-year-old Lanning left ASU, where she studied architecture, to open a music store. She remembered when costumers would move away to different cities and come back during the holidays with grand stories about the amazing new cities they inhabit. Lanning grew frustrated that people were not showing that same adoration for Arizona.
“I started thinking about, ‘Why do I feel connected to this place, when other people don’t?’” Lanning said.
Lanning opened up Modified Arts, a performance space for live music, theater, and anything arts related, on Roosevelt Row.
She realized there was a need for “connection of place”. What makes people want to stay here and have a deep connection to their city? Her answer is locally owned shops that have a personal connection to the community.
Lanning founded Local First Arizona, which is now the largest business coalition in North America, in 2003. According to the Local First Arizona’s website, “Local First Arizona (LFA) is a statewide non-profit organization working to strengthen communities and local economies through growing, supporting, and celebrating locally owned businesses throughout the state of Arizona.”
The owner of Organic Crown Pure Bath and Body, Jennifer Steineke, started her lotion business in 2010 and is a part of Local First Arizona.
“We like the fact that they bring local companies together and support local companies,” Steineke said.
Organic Crown Pure Bath and Body is a small family business that originated in Tempe. According to the shops website, they created the business with the “goal of creating pleasantly scented moisturizing lotion from local and pure sources.”
Shopping locally is important to Steineke in her business and personal life.
“Whatever your supplies are that you need, if you can keep it local, I think it’s very important,” Steineke said.
She frequents farmers markets and tries to buy groceries locally at stores like Whole Foods.
As for her business materials, “There’s an herbal shop that I frequent for my essential oils, that’s just a little locally owned store in Chandler.”
Lanning believes that spending directly impacts the connection to the place one lives. She spoke about how society has been “pounded into the ground” and forced to believe that chain stores are cheaper. She argues against that sentiment.
“We can now prove for every chain store out there, for every two jobs they create, three jobs are lost,” Lanning said.
Tempe Councilwoman and community engagement manager of ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability, Lauren Kuby, recognizes that spending money locally will help the economy flourish.
“I recognize how beneficial supporting local businesses is to the economy,” Kuby said “Shopping locally generates almost four times as much economic benefit for the community as shopping at a chain.”
Kuby sees the potential for Tempe and what the city could improve on. She has already brought the idea of local spending up to her council members.
“We are looking into having a local first policy that would require our procurement to buy from within Maricopa County firstly, the state of Arizona secondly, before we go outside of the state,” Kuby said.
Lanning believes it is time “to hold up Arizona companies on our shoulders and say, ‘thank you’.”