This is the latest bumper sticker to soon reach the streets of Merced. Two large words with a simple message following by six words that drive home the point. This little bumper sticker could speak volumes about what we can all do to help the local economy.The sticker was given to me by one of our elected officials last week. It reads: Grow Merced in large letters. Beneath the large letters are the words: Think Local, Buy Local, Support Local. The person who gave me the sticker explained that the simple message is designed to get people thinking about spending their money locally.
Every dollar spent in Merced stays in our community. The merchant uses that money to pay his or her supplier and employees. A part of the money is used to make improvements to the store where the money was spent.
Some of the money goes to taxes that allow our local governments to provide services such as road repair and streetlights. And if there’s anything left from the money we spend locally, that merchant might realize a fair profit.
All of this makes sense, but as we well know, some people can’t resist the urge to spend their discretionary dollars outside our borders. We hear the stories, or I should say the excuses all the time: there’s a better selection in Modesto, there’s a better price in Fresno, or we can just go on line and save the hassle.
These explanations may all be true, but they miss the point. Our local economy is taking it on the chin right now. Merced County continues to languish among the counties with the highest unemployment rates in California. We still see way too many abandoned homes in our neighborhoods.
The ratio of stores going out of business compared to new stores opening up for business in the community is still going in the wrong direction.
Every dollar we take outside the community helps those outside communities. They, no doubt, have their own share of economic challenges right now. But these are times that require us to think a little harder about the choices we make at the cash register.
To be clear, this is not about attracting dollars from outside Merced County. That’s important too, but we have organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce and the Convention and Visitors Bureau who continue to mobilize their members to work on getting more outside dollars coming into the community. Every community does that, and it will continue that way.
This effort is about local people doing business with local people.
I’m told the Grow Merced bumper sticker is a product of the group of area business leaders who call their loosely woven group Merced Ahead. They were the ones who brought in a national expert on community development to Merced’s Senior Center a couple of years ago. This expert related a story about the city of Tupelo, Mississippi and how it broke away from the circular shackles of a poor economy several years ago.
It took a lot of communication, coordination, and common sense to break the cycle. But it worked.
The local group continues to find ways for the citizenry to pick itself up, dust itself off, and try once again to stimulate the economy and help all of us adopt a better attitude about our community.
What can we do to help Merced County? We can shop at local businesses. We can dine out at a local restaurant. We’ll save money on gas, and we might see our neighbor working behind the counter. More important, we might be helping that neighbor hang on to those all too rare jobs that we’re trying to create.
Steve Newvine lives in Merced