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If everyone bought local, who would buy our stuff?

By   /   Sunday, March 22nd, 2009  /   Comments Off on If everyone bought local, who would buy our stuff?

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We’re all in favor of local communities showcasing their products and encouraging chamber of commerce members to do business with each other.

But we’d add a strong cautionary note to the proliferation of “buy local” initiatives that are cropping up across the Tri-Counties.

Buy local has a nice ring to it. It’s meant to encourage patronage of local restaurants, local bookstores and local merchants as opposed to shopping at the mall’s big box stores.

But such good intentions can also smack of local protectionism. And they run against the grain of the best and brightest business practices in our region — practices built up over a century or more of global leadership in fields such as agriculture, technology and hospitality.

Imagine, if you will, what the state of our agriculture would be like if every lemon raised in the Goleta Valley had to be consumed in the city limits. Suppose every town in the world had its locally authorized builder of enterprise software because it was “frowned upon” to purchase products from Santa Barbara-based QAD.

Suppose, for example, that Los Angeles adopted a buy local program of theatrical patronage that discouraged folks from Tinseltown from patronizing the Rubicon Theater in Ventura, performances at the Granada or Lobero theaters in Santa Barbara or the concerts at the Chumash Casino in the Santa Ynez Valley.

What if the folks in the San Francisco Bay Area authorized a buy local campaign aimed at boosting Napa and Sonoma wines while crushing demand for far superior vintages from Santa Maria, Lompoc and Paso Robles?

We think you get our drift. Adam Smith famously pointed out that free trade depends on precisely the opposite motivations that drive our buy local campaigns. We want our world-class companies to compete on a regional, state, national and even global stage.

We want the pricing, profit and market power that comes with specialization at the highest possible levels, but these are not easy things to achieve.

The easy thing to achieve is a buy local campaign, for example, to encourage folks to give the local card shop a chance rather than going to the drug store for a generic Easter or Mother’s Day card.

But we, as a region, are better than that. Our advice to communities considering buy local campaigns is that they truly take a look around and ask the question “What if we really meant it?”

Our guess is that every community would want to add an asterisk or two suggesting that avocados, lemons, Valencia oranges, strawberries, broccoli, gerbera daisies, beach walkers, concert goers, enterprise software, remote sensing devices, super-fast computer chips, chardonnay, pinot noir, zinfandel, craft beers, power supplies, catalytic converters and many, many others be exempted.

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