For Chamber, ‘Shop Local’ means Shop Chamber

Community and economic development facilitators say when people spend money in their hometowns, 68 percent of those funds stay in the community.

During a presentation to members of the Liberty Hill Chamber of Commerce Tuesday, representatives of the Lower Colorado River Authority and Pedernales Electric Co-op shared a quote from a marketing company regarding the benefits of spending money with locally-owned businesses.

“When you buy from a small local business you are not paying for a third vacation home for some CEO. You are paying for dance lessons, you are buying a little-league uniform. You are putting food on a family’s table and sending a student to college. You are making the American Dream come true for somebody in your community. Somebody you problably know.”

“When local businesses make money, the community becomes more attractive to others (businesses) considering moving in,” said Alicia Cook of LCRA.

Ms. Cook listed reasons why consumers should shop local, noting that local merchants are more likely to invest and donate in their own community.

Although the shop local discussion was made possible by the Liberty Hill Chamber, Board Chairman David Pope said the organization’s real application of the idea is to promote only those businesses that are members of the Chamber, regardless of where they are doing business.

While the Liberty Hill Chamber’s Mission Statement, which was distributed Tuesday, states that it is to “provide services to members, to enhance the quality of life for the community and its businesses, and to support constructive initiatives on major issues of public policy,” Pope said “we (the Chamber) have a fiduciary obligation to act on behalf of their (member businesses) interests alone.”

Pope told The Independent after the meeting that the Chamber Board does not have a plan yet for implementing a “Shop Local” campaign. Should it adopt one, “the Chamber  would focus its energies on benefitting member businesses.”

He said the question of whether a chamber of commerce should work to promote local businesses as opposed to all of its members, regardless of their place of business, “is not a problem unique to Liberty Hill. Every chamber is going to have businesses from outside and every chamber is going to have, or at least desire, the membership of big box stores.”

He said of the 58 active Chamber members, 11 are based outside Liberty Hill.

“Not every program will benefit all of the members equally, but the goal for the chamber is to offer a variety of opportunities for our business members to succeed. There is no ‘one size fits all’ model that can address the needs of all of our business members simultaneously, so we will continue to work with our members to develop a multi-faceted approach,” he said.

Pope said part of the purpose of Tuesday’s discussion on shopping local was to “get the conversation started and get the input of our members. The lack of retail members certainly creates a challenge for us in dedicating time and money to a program best suited for retail businesses.”

Pope, who owns a local insurance company, said most Liberty Hill businesses are “service businesses.”

“This is why we continue to discuss ways to target service businesses within a ‘shop local’ context,” he said.

The caterer for Tuesday’s monthly Chamber Lunch & Learn was Scirati’s, a restaurant/catering service based in Leander. Pope said the business paid the same amount of membership dues as Liberty Hill restaurants. Scirati’s has catered previous Chamber events.

“It would be an interesting notion to consider higher dues for non-local business, but I think there are several problems that could arise from such a plan,” he said.

Also part of the program Tuesday were references to reports prepared for the Chamber by LCRA and PEC regarding the demographics of the Liberty Hill Independent School District based on the 2010 Census. The reports, which are available here include income profiles and projections, as well as population projections for the area.

Of special interest is a Retail Marketplace Profile showing the gap between retail potential and retail sales.

The report shows Liberty Hill has a surplus of gas stations, stores selling building materials and supplies, florists, home furnishings and general merchandise.

Pope said the Chamber is making the information available to members, the City’s Economic Development Corp., “and other prospective businesses that happen to contact us.

“We are not in any position to take on a true economic development role, given our very limited resources,” he added. “However, the City’s Economic Development Corp. collects somewhere around $150,000 per year in sales tax that is specifically dedicated to economic development. My goal is to continue to seek a partnership with the city that would have us working in concert together on attracting new businesses, policy development, tourism and ‘Shop Local’ programs.

“This is what our membership, new businesses and the residents want to see — businesses, the city and the citizens working together toward a common goal: community,” he said.