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Wednesday 27 August 2014

Miriam Donohoe: What goes around comes around - why spending money locally helps everyone

Miriam Donohoe

Published 11/12/2013 | 23:33

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In Cork city a social media campaign is in full swing to help support local business

KEEP it local. We hear this a lot. But as Ireland limps through the recession, "local", sadly, has been forgotten. Many small businesses in our towns and villages are hurting. And Santa won't be visiting this year.

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We were rejoicing last week after Ireland was named the best country in the world in which to do business by the influential financial magazine 'Forbes'. We were also celebrating saying "bye bye" to the troika. Back to monetary independence -- of sorts anyway.

But despite the economic upturn, with property prices rising and unemployment figures at their lowest level since 2009, many communities across the country are still suffering. A drive through some small towns in Ireland will show shops closed down, and once-thriving main streets dying on their feet. Yesterday came news that the Athlone Town Shopping Centre, a development that was to put new business blood into the midlands, has gone into receivership.

Indications are that with just over two weeks to go to Christmas shoppers are heading to the cities and big shopping centres to spend -- and the local grocery shop, butcher, chemist, pub, garage, craft and gift shops are losing out on the festive bonanza.

According to a Deloitte survey, Irish families will fork out a staggering €1.5bn in the run-up to the big day, on gifts, food and drink. That's an average of about €900 per family. But how much of this spend will stay in our local communities?

Of course the bottom line for most of us is value for money, and making our hard-earned euro stretch as far as possible. God knows we have less disposable cash now due to the recklessness of the banks, politicians and regulators during the boom.

But we need to look at the longer game.

The impact of spending locally was highlighted to me yesterday by Catherine Keeling, who set up her own business, The Dolls House Studio, in Carrigaline Co Cork, eight years ago. Catherine is a one-woman show, who makes and stocks different types of dolls houses and accessories.

She told how she learnt a valuable lesson in economics last week, and how €200 could make such a difference to her town. A customer paid her €200 for a doll's house so she was able to order some signs and advertising materials from a local printer, costing €200. The man in the printers told her he was going to pay the garage next door for work to his car, which cost €200.

The garage man had just taken on an apprentice on a wage of €200, which, presumably, will be spent locally.

"So that original €200 paid to me had a total value of €1,000 to Carrigaline. Spend €200 on the internet outside of Ireland and it is gone," Catherine said.

The good news is that towns around Ireland are fighting back and starting to shout loud.

A tweet I posted to the #keepitlocal hashtag yielded a huge response, with various communities sharing what they are doing to keep the money in their towns.

In New Ross, Co. Wexford, the local Chamber of Commerce has launched a Random Acts of Christmas initiative where members of the public are selected on the street and given an envelope containing a voucher from a local shop.

In Co Mayo, 29 businesses in Claremorris have to date signed up to the local Chamber of Commerce Shop Claremorris Voucher scheme. There is also free parking in the town every day from 1 pm for December.

Kilkenny, my native city, is offering the first hour of parking free in most car parks for December. And the Made In Kilkenny craft network has opened a pop-up shop on John Street.

In Cork City blogger and digital marketer Aoife Rigney, is driving a social media campaign to support local business this Christmas. They are invited to tweet their offers to #CorkChristmas and be included in her excellent blog.

We might groan at the well-worn appeal to "buy-local", but these campaigns can help local economies stay alive. They can also give a hopeful message in a recession.

A recent American Independent Business Alliance survey revealed that small businesses in communities with "buy local" campaigns had an 8.6pc increase in sales in 2012 compared to the previous year.

Two weeks ago America had a Small Business Saturday, held between the country's two big mega-shopping events, Black Friday and Cyber Monday. More than 100 million shoppers spent an estimated $5.5 billion locally that day.

In our ever-growing global world, it is more important than ever to retain the distinctive character of our local retailers and small business. We don't want everything to be swallowed up by the big guys.

The benefits reverberate throughout the community -- local businesses provide local jobs. Thriving businesses lead to more support for sports clubs and schools. Young people have more options to stay in areas that are prospering.

Keeping the spend local gives oxygen to our communities. If all the spend is in the big centres, oxygen is cut off -- and small businesses wither and die.

A lot of small towns need a miracle on Main Street this Christmas. Just as Ireland was bailed out by the troika, it is in our hands now to bail out small business. Let's give them a helping hand in the next two weeks. Twitter: #keepitlocal

Irish Independent

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