What to do about our hard economic times is a part of the national conversation and plenty of federal action in the first five months of the Obama Administration. The media gas bags on cable news won't let us forget it. We rightly expect the solutions to come from Washington (the stimulus) and a more rigorous policing of the charlatans of Wall Street. Madoff is in jail and Bush et al have been vanquished.
But it may also be an ideal time for citizens and small businesses to take some of these matters into their own hands through what might be called micro-economic activism. The macro fixes in the global economy are going to take a while to trickle down, if they trickle down at all to places like New Britain, Connecticut.
That's what makes an upstart movement to encourage ordinary folks to shift a percentage of their spending away from franchises and chains into local and regional businesses one of the few good things to emerge from the baddest recession most of us have ever seen.
Visitors to the "10 percent shift" website are asked to sign the following pledge:
I live in New England and want to preserve our fine heritage, create healthy and sustainable communities, and build a strong New England economy.
I pledge to do an inventory of my annual expenditures and to find ways to shift a minimum of 10% of my annual budget from non locally-owned businesses to locally owned and independent businesses (Local Independents) in the next 12 months.
The "10 percent shifters" are a project of an organization called the New England Local Business Forum (NELBF). The group,with some strong adherents in working-class Somerville outside of Boston and Cambridge, says studies point to significant and positive impacts: "Over the past few years, a growing base of economic research has helped to quantify the Local Multiplier. When dollars are spent at Local Independents, up to three times as much money stays locally, and since Local Independents are much more likely to keep the money circulating in the local economy the economic impact multiplies dramatically. This economic growth resulting from the circulation of dollars within the local economy is the Local Multiplier at work."
In a place like New Britain that lost its retail downtown to the malling of America decades ago, this "10 percent shift" action may seem like tilting against windmills. Is there an independent drug, shoe or hardware store left? But even here we can make some choices that keep dollars in the local economy for that "multiplier effect".
I'll take some of our local restaurants over a franchise any day. I can consciously choose the local optician over Lenscrafters. Maybe there is a regionally-owned gas station where all the dollars for fuel won't be guzzled by ExxonMobil.
Becoming a shifter may be worth a try here in hard hittin' New Britain.
Photo: Amato's Store Hartford Courant