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Why Main Street Matters-Buy Local!

March 7, 2017

For generations, small family-owned businesses on Main Street were the lifeblood of local economies in most corners of America. They provided local jobs, accounted for majority of the ratable tax base, and they were usually the first entities to contribute financial resources to causes within the community. In recent decades, we have seen the disappearance of healthy Main Streets across our nation. Gone by the wayside have been the family-owned enterprises, where someday, a son or daughter would take over the store, continuing the family tradition as the go-to local merchant. In their place, we have watched the explosion of the big box retailer, run by corporate executive teams who have no connection to the community. These corporations usually redistribute their gathered wealth via Wall Street, leaving Main Street to fend for itself.

Main Street matters more than ever before. There are still some holdouts in small towns across America, where small businesses are keeping the American dream alive, and they need your support. These are the businesses which survived the crushing blows of big box store competition and/or they are specialty businesses that serve the residents of bedroom communities, which cannot be replaced due to the unique services they provide. So here is why you need to support Main Street and why it matters:

The small business located on Main Street might be owned and operated by a member of your family, a friend, neighbor, or someone who resides within the community. Chances are that the small business owned by a local resident relies on other local residents to patronize their establishment. There is the old saying that charity begins at home. Charity does not mean a hand out, however in this case it does mean making those small sacrifices that make all the difference in someone else’s life. Yes, you might pay a few extra bucks for that pair of jeans or for that appliance, but you are contributing and investing into the success of someone you might know locally, who in turn understands the value of being a positive influence in the community in which they do business.

Small businesses provide an income to municipalities. Each local store front or small manufacturing facility pays taxes, a lot of taxes, without drawing on the essential services provided to homeowners. Since business properties are zoned commercial or income-producing, they are assessed at a much higher rate than homes. With more ratable properties contributing to school taxes, school districts have more resources to provide a better education for the residents’ children. When there is a successful Main Street, usually demand to be a resident of that community is higher, thus driving up property values. Businesses must pay for their own garbage removal; they do not require additional law enforcement nor fire to support their existence. Local municipalities look to offset home property-tax-revenue with ratable property-tax-revenue. This creates a balance so that essential services can be provided to the community without over-taxing every homeowner.

A thriving Main Street denotes a thriving community. An empty shelf never sells anything, and that can be applied to storefronts and property values. If you have ever driven through a small town which had multiple thriving businesses, chances are you were more tempted to stop, take a look around and spend a few bucks. Success breeds success, and people usually want to live and work in an environment where examples of true professionalism and caring can be experienced. A thriving Main Street can provide that experience.

Small business owners are essential to good municipal leadership. They are the first to feel the impact of local ordinances and statutes that affect property zoning and uses, and they have the best insight as to the potential threat or protection such ordinances offer. They are always the first to question local authorities about a business’ right to free enterprise. Business owners can be counted on to voice their opinion on local political issues and are the most interested in preserving the community’s culture. They are the most well-educated about past governance and the historic mistakes made by poor leadership, and they are most willing to contest cumbersome local statutes that create a burden on the community.

In many cases, they put their money where their mouth is by becoming a part of the local political landscape as committee or town council members. Their motivation often stems from an experience in which they feel the business community is being abused by elected officials who are not responsible for paying the price of burdensome policy. The harmonious relationship, or lack thereof, between local government and small businesses will make or break a community.

Small businesses account for fifty percent of job creation in the United States. Most small businesses may have fewer than five employees and usually employ people they know; friends, family, neighbors, or folks recommended to them by a close trusted party. Small businesses are usually the first to invest into the local workforce. Small businesses may not always be in a position to provide the same perks as a major corporation, however most small businesses will accommodate a schedule of a local employee if they need time off to care for a child at home, or school, or a local event. Sometimes the local small business owner may also own a home and have children in the school system or be a coach of a local sports team in town, so they understand the importance of life beyond business. Many become iconic employers for generations of teens getting their first job.

A small business strives to be a positive influence in the community, and therefore usually are the first to donate resources to become the sponsor of a local little league baseball team or football team. Many small business owners understand the importance of giving back, so they may volunteer to help a local nonprofit cause and may donate money to that cause. Business owners may be spotted cleaning their storefront windows, sweeping their sidewalks and speaking with local patrons to ensure customer satisfaction. Small business owners usually accept the idea of self-responsibility and to be of service to the community in which they call home. These business owners may be the volunteers that make up your local fire department or first aid squad, and will close their door in aiding a situation when duty calls.

Main Street entrepreneurs know the importance of reinvesting in their properties and in the community. A local business’ economic growth is only as successful as the residents and community around them. Small businesses on Main Street have been known to reinvest part of their money into the upkeep of their building, or will take lead on a local project that enhances the value of the community. They make their money locally and usually will spend their money locally, thus keeping part of those earnings cycled within the community. They will patron other local businesses in the hopes of creating a network of local commercial clients in addition to local patrons.

Small businesses are a symbol of American free enterprise. They represent the local resident who was willing to put at risk their assets or wealth, put forth all of their own efforts in creating an opportunity for themselves and others, on their own hard work and merits. Rarely do you find the local business capitalizing on property tax credits or grant incentives from government programs. They have to be creative, innovative, and rely on their reputation for offering the best product and/or service they can to their clientele. Small businesses commit to the success of their own enterprises and assume the additional responsibility to see that Main Street succeeds. In many cases they put people before profit.

In order to protect the American free enterprise system, we must support Main Street. If we are to desire a handle on out-of-control property taxes, we must encourage local entrepreneurs to invest into Main Street. If we want more of a choice as to where to spend our consumer dollars besides big box stores, then as a community, we must adopt the culture of shopping locally. In turn we must extend the olive branch to the local entrepreneur and provide the pre-existing conditions necessary for the small business to realize opportunity and success. If we don’t, it may be then end of Main Street as we know it, and Main Street will be as extinct as the dinosaur. Once it is gone, it can never be brought back to life.

Samuel K. Burlum is an investigative reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. He is also a career entrepreneur and currently the CEO/President of Extreme Energy Solutions Inc., a green tech company located in Sparta, New Jersey. Samuel K. Burlum lends his expertise as a consultant to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in a number of areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration. He is also Author of the books The Race to Protect our Most Important Natural Resource and Life in the Green Lane- in Pursuit of the American Dream.

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