Take action, buy local

Published 4:35 pm Monday, May 31, 2010

The Retail Alliance, an organization promoting the interests of retailers in the Hampton Roads area, was behind a successful effort this year to get the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue a new license plate. Sales of the plate, which promotes the organization’s “Buy Local” campaign, will help raise money for advertising and other efforts on behalf of Hampton Roads-area retailers.

It was a laudable effort that resulted in the establishment of the new plate, and the cause is a worthy one. Even better, the 1,000-plate threshold that must be crossed before the revenue-sharing aspects of the DMV program kick in should be easy to reach, meaning that — even if only the organization’s members get the initial plates — there should be enough sold soon for the Alliance to start getting a cut of the proceeds.

The organization is encouraging people all over Hampton Roads to join the effort by purchasing “Buy Local” plates, thereby showing their preference for local and locally owned companies. It’s a good idea, as Virginia leads the nation in people expressing themselves on their license plates.

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Even more effective in building communities in the long run, however, will be actually doing what the new plates call for. According to figures released by the Alliance in December, every $100 spent with an independent local business results in $45 being returned directly to the local economy.

The benefits go beyond simple dollars and cents, however, as the Alliance made clear in a December letter that sought support for the “Buy Local” plate:

“Furthermore, buying locally helps produce more income, jobs, and tax receipts for local communities than dollars spent with big box stores. Local businesses are more likely to utilize local ads, banks and other services. Local businesses donate more money to nonprofits and are more accountable to their local communities. Supporting local businesses preserves the economic diversity of our communities and the unique character of our neighborhoods. And, supporting local businesses is good for the environment, because it cuts down on fuel consumption. Buying locally produced goods reduces the need to ship goods from thousands of miles away and also cuts down on the distances shoppers travel.”

Now that the commonwealth has approved the Alliance’s request for a special license plate, Virginia consumers can advertise their shopping preferences everywhere they drive. But for retailers in Suffolk, nothing speaks louder than the dollars spent in their stores.

Go out and buy the new plate, by all means. But stop at a local, independently owned store on the way to the DMV and spend a few dollars. That’s the most important action you can take.