Newnan-Coweta Chamber launches ‘Buy Local’ project

By W. WINSTON SKINNER The Newnan-Coweta Chamber of Commerce has launched a “Buy Local” program that will encourage local shoppers and businesses to look for ways to spend their money in Coweta County. The project will be an ongoing effort, and the first step was bringing about 40 business leaders together for a discussion of ways to address the topic. Linda Mosely led the first group discussion for Chamber members at Central Educational Center last week.
Mosely is with Great Southern Publishers, which has offices in Atlanta and St. Simons Island. Mosely said the goal is to determine “how to empower people to buy local.” She talked about how that process can fuel “reinvestment in the community.” Candace Boothby, president of the Newnan-Coweta Chamber, said getting people to think about buying in their own community is “a cultural shift” that results in people making a conscious choice to purchase goods and services locally — rather than from businesses elsewhere. Larry Owens, a member of the Senoia City Council who attended the meeting, said Coweta businesses can be each other’s advocates. “Don’t be afraid to toot one another’s horn. That’s what it’s all about,” he said. Being focused on “helping people find what they are looking for” is a key, said Tonya Whitlock of West Georgia Technical College. Participants were asked about a variety of topics including how businesses can increase their customer bases and how the chamber can help encourage the “Buy Local” idea. Suggestions for increasing customers included having special events, offering free local delivery and using social media. Owens said buying local can include reaching outside Newnan and the major commercial strip to places like Senoia, Moreland and Grantville. Barriers identified included the perception that larger businesses may offer better service and/or price — as well as simply getting the word out about smaller businesses. In some areas, the availability of parking or perceptions about traffic may also create obstacles to increasing business. Some companies find it difficult to compete with Internet-based competitors. “I’ve heard that from several,” said local banker Mark Fritz. Sometimes there is an incorrect perception that a certain type of product, business, service or contractor is not available in the local community, and Mosely observed it does no good for a company to figure out that speciality is available after the need has been met by some outside firm. She said it probably is important to “network and also educate at the same time.” Mosely said, “We need to educate each other so we call know what services we provide.” Pam Mayer, visitor center coordinator for the Coweta County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said there are many things local businesses can do make themselves more competitive. It is helpful “if you keep your business looking fresh,” she said. Having events such as the Expo that offer businesses a chance to spotlight their services can be helpful. There also was discussion of the 3-50 program — in which individuals and businesses endeavor to spend $50 per month at three different local businesses. Having programs in the schools that teach the economic value of spending money in the local community was also suggested. Another idea was reaching out to ethnic groups within the county — specifically inviting them to shop locally and making them aware of local products and services. Mosely said local businesses can offer “relationships and service” to people in a way that a business further away cannot. “The shoppers also want to know what else is around — so we can send them on to the next person,” Mayer said. Discussion included specifically addressing Cowetans who work outside the county and people from other counties who work in the county. Vicki Kaiser, current chairman of the chamber board, also reflected on the “feel good” aspect of buying locally. Spending dollars in the local community helps generate tax dollars to support local schools and programs. Buying locally equals “supporting your local economy,” Kaiser said. Local businesses can “provide a positive experience” for shoppers, Mosely said. Phyllis Graham of Let Them Eat Toffee, a downtown store, echoed that thought, saying visitors to downtown “are in an environment of comfort and Southern hospitality.” Bradley Down of Cargill, one of the world’s largest corporations that has a plant in Shenandoah Industrial Park, said involvement in organizations like the chamber can help smaller businesses connect with larger ones. “Big business tries to do business with local people, but we don’t know who they are,” he said. He acknowledged that the local salesperson probably cannot get through the switchboard at a large company to talk to a decision maker. Meeting that same person at a chamber event could open an otherwise closed door. Fritz said the chamber may have to reach out to some businesses, particularly “the one-man shop.” Such business people “just can’t participate the way it’s designed,” he said. Whitlock suggested the chamber might help by connecting local companies with the process required to be on the state bid list. State agencies and schools like WGTC are often limited to buying from companies on the state list. Whitlock said there are times she would like to buy from a local business, but “I can’t because they’re not a state supplier.” Graham suggested Main Street Newnan and the chamber work together more. “I would love to see more interaction and more unity between the two groups,” she said. Mosely said she was impressed by the diverse range represented at the initial meeting. She said it is important to have “a consistent message and branding of the ‘Buy Local’ campaign.” The campaign needs to be launched in many directions. “We’re being proactive in telling our story instead of letting other people tell our story for us,” Boothby said. “Proactive messaging and strategy” are important, she added, saying that having “buy-in” throughout the community is a key. “I work with a lot of chambers, and I have worked with a lot of ‘Buy Local” campaigns,” Mosely said. “Some work. Some don’t.” Moseley emphasized last week’s meeting was just the first step in a process. “This is not the end of it,” she said. “We will get together and talk about what we’re going to do next.”

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