Put your money where your house is

We are inspired by working in a community that already enjoys a strong local economy, but how resilient are we? Seacoast Local wants to engage you in answering this question more directly 2017, and we’re asking for your financial support to help us lead the conversation. The economy is not a mysterious force that happens outside of our sphere of influence; it is very much within grasp of our policy, our priorities, and our habits.

We know that the Seacoast benefits when we position “people, planet, and place” as the cornerstone of our local economy. We know that small businesses are still the primary economic engine for generating jobs and lifting people into the middle class. And we know that when we buy local, bank local, invest local, eat local, and make local, that more of our dollars do more good. So we know that our actions can ensure a legacy of local economic stewardship that will benefit generations to come.

But here’s what we also know about what’s ahead:

We know that we have no clue about the national economic policies of the incoming administration, a fact that in itself has made national and global markets twitchy.

We know that increasingly muscular corporations have the ear of national policy makers, where they have long enjoyed tax loopholes and other incentives that simply don’t apply to small business–even though, despite their size, giant corporations just aren’t as productive as small business when it comes to creating jobs and facilitating economic opportunity.

And we know that local communities must pay the difference. Amazon is not the only example of this kind of behavior, but it’s one of the biggest and most relevant, since Amazon captures $1 out of every $2 that Americans spend online. We purchased a record $55.6 billion in retail goods from Amazon in 2015, but these sales produced a net loss of 222,000 retail jobs, even counting all the jobs in their distribution centers. This comes from a report by Civic Economics, “Amazon and Empty Storefronts,” which also sheds light on the tax and land-use implications of shifting those dollars online: $704 million in lost sales tax, as well as an estimated loss of $500 million in property taxes that might have resulted had those transactions taken place in local storefronts instead.

Our local brick-and-mortar stores are trying to compete while still paying these taxes, and getting pinched by rising rents as well. Fifty-nine percent of retailers report being worried by the increasing cost of rent, and one in four describe it as a top challenge, according to a recent survey by the Institute for Local Self Reliance.

The banking and lending sector, the primary source of capital for our small businesses, has been similarly affected by skewed policy. ILSR is alarmed by the pace of change--over the last seven years, one of every four community banks has disappeared, with two-thirds being acquired and absorbed into bigger banks. Why is this a problem? Because big banks can’t be bothered with small business. The country’s largest 20 banks control nearly 60 percent of all bank assets but devote only 18 percent of their commercial loan portfolios to small business. In contrast, small and mid-sized banks control less than one-quarter of all bank assets, but do more than half of all small business lending. (Use our tool to shift your banking today.)

There are other facts that we also know: income distribution is narrowing the middle class; we are aging fast (Maine has the oldest population in the nation, and N.H. has the fourth oldest); there is a looming housing crisis the Seacoast; and of course climate change is raising sea levels, disrupting seasons and habitats, and increasing costly extreme weather events.

The local economy solution doesn’t make these challenges go away, but it does increase our resilience in the face of them. Simply put, money redirected from Wall Street to Main Street is more productive. We get more payroll, more profits, more philanthropy, and more entrepreneurship. When we reinvest here, we deepen our capacity to create the future we want here. We get a culture of human-scale enterprise, and we enjoy the democratic benefits that come with dispersed local ownership. Vibrant commercial and civic life spins webs of interconnection between people, which correlates with both personal and widespread health and well-being.

We will not find one solution for our 21st century challenges, but we can cultivate places where thousands of new solutions can be conceived, developed, shared, and scaled. Working together, we have the power to protect our unique sense of place, lift up ourselves and our neighbors, create meaningful jobs, and build strong, resilient communities that we are proud to call home.

This is the opportunity of our generation. We are committed to leaving this legacy for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren. It’s a new type of work for a new era, and we truly need your help. Please support Seacoast Local with your donation or membership today.