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Small businesses are a big deal

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By Lance Minnis

I would hope that most readers of the Localare aware, by now, of the debate raging in our community about the proposed CVS Pharmacy and its possible impacts. Many of us were not aware that such a thing was contemplated by city government, or that property owners had been approached to sell, until too late in the process to do much about it. Since then, many people have made their feelings known on the subject. This is a good and healthy thing, and I encourage more.

In the course of this debate, several points have been raised which outline the real issues at stake here, which are not “Should a CVS move to Eminence?” The questions we should be asking are what kind of community do we want to live in? And what can we do about it? How does a community answer these questions? Let’s take a look at three of the most common statements regarding local growth versus outside development.

“We can’t stand in the way of progress”

Why not? Who determines what “progress” is, anyway? Progress is defined as change through space and time.  Change is something we accept, direct, and shape to our own purposes. So we determine what shape “progress” takes. True, it usually means the extinction of something unique, small, and homegrown for something larger, non-distinct, boilerplate and owned by outsiders. This is because  communities give up, and hand their future to others, rather than exercising their own stake. Small  operators who keep community equity, wages and proceeds at home, employees who stay close to home and increased social capital make way for generic large operators who take the equity away, who lower wages and send proceeds elsewhere. Employees who may need to travel to a different location or even to a different community since the big retailer puts several smaller local establishments out of business, and fewer non-profits and social capital associations such as churches, community organizations, and business groups. What we can’t stand in the way of is “change.” There is no doubt that changes are coming this way, but we can choose how they occur, when they occur, and in what fashion.

“As a city, there is nothing we can do about it”

Of course there is. This is, indeed, the very purpose of city councils, mayors, and planning and zoning commissions- to create the framework for the type of community that the residents desire. There are many towns across the United States, and the world, which have successfully resisted unwanted types of development. City councils can hold referendums, citizens can use the courts to block development, planning and zoning can create economic zones for different types of development, keeping unwanted types to specific areas on the periphery of the city, so the center remains a place of distinctiveness. Ordinances and planning and zoning can be used to prohibit certain sizes and types of structures from the city entirely. There are laws and regulations regarding historic properties preventing destruction or significant modification, or the creation of Historic Commissions to do the same. Building codes can be established to restrict certain types of structures. In fact, almost all these techniques are currently in use somewhere in Henry County and Eminence. And of course, as a last resort, the city has the right of eminent domain. All that is required is creativity, the desire to shape future growth in line with community values, and a proper fiduciary sense of duty.

“Main Street is empty…we need to do something”

Absolutely, we need to do something. Successful communities renovate their downtowns, refurbishing and repurposing existing structures, keeping the character of the place, so that residents and visitors find a unique welcoming place to live, work, dine, and shop. Tearing down the city center to install a generic big box is not what successful communities do, much less locating it right next door to the most successful local business in town which is its direct competitor. That strips the life from a town and gives the current and future economic wellbeing of the community into the hands of those who have no stake in it, who see its residents as cash to extract. Study after study, as well as the direct experience of dozens of towns, document that communities dominated by large national retailers suffer lower wages, lower tax receipts, lower rates of community service dollars, more traffic and longer and more commutes to and from the community, and higher unemployment, not to mention the indefinables like lack of community culture or civic life.

So what can we do? Here are some things other communities have done: Develop a “Buy Local” campaign. The Chamber of Commerce has the beginnings of this program in place, but it requires the unstinting support and constant reinforcement of city and county government, a listing of local businesses you can support including shops, restaurants, CSAs, farms, services, etc., possible subsidies to participating businesses who can then offer financial incentives to customers, and a public actively engaged in the program. Institute building codes and city ordinances to penalize those who allow their property to fall into disrepair. Use eminent domain to purchase vacant buildings from delinquent owners, then develop and lease them as a source of city revenue or sell them to entrepreneurs/developers with provisos and ordinances as to how the buildings must be maintained. Create a city owned entrepreneurial business incubator. Offer community wide Wi-Fi to encourage home based and service companies. Work with the two local school districts to encourage entrepreneurial students to stay local at graduation. Work with existing businesses to facilitate expansion. Funding can come from a variety of sources. Build a shopping center on unimproved land outside city center for national chains then use the tax revenue to renovate downtown. Obviously the best way is by encouraging new small business from local talent…the more businesses, the higher the tax revenues. Seek public/private partnerships, investors that will work with the community to build business for a share of the equity and profits. Raise a bond offering. Seek economic development funds from State and Federal government. Many of these techniques are being used in communities all around us, from La Grange to Midway to Louisville.

The bottom line is, we citizens of Henry County have choices, and we have a say, in the future of our community. We need to ask more of ourselves, to think more about how we want to live. As I was told by a resident yesterday, we choose to live here, not Shelbyville, or Lexington, because we like it here…the pace, the friendliness, the small town feel. If these are valuable, then there are ways to keep them, even while we accept and direct future change. If you are interested in reading more about the studies done on the impact of big box retailers to small communities I encourage you to visit the following links:

www.amiba.net/resources/studies-recommended-reading/impact-of-big-box-de...

www.ilsr.org/key-studies-walmart-and-bigbox-retail/#6

 

Lance Minnis is an Advisor and Financial Coach with Commonwealth Financial Advisors, LLC. Opinions are his own and do not constitute financial or investment advice. He can be reached at 502-423-7420, www.kycommonwealthadvisors.com or at www.facebook.com/commonwealthfinancialadvisors.