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Celebrating Local Economies! A Conversation with Celerah Hewes-Rutledge from Delicious NM on BALLE

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The Agriculture Collaborative (AC) this month spoke to Celerah Hewes-Rutledge from DNM about BALLE, an organization that works to identify and connect pioneering leaders, spread solutions, and attract investment toward local economies.  The lessons are relevant to entrepreneurs across the region, especially our local food and ag entrepreneurs. 

AC:  We heard that you recently returned from the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) conference.  What are some of the key take-away messages?

CHR:  My main take-away was a clear picture of how connected all of the parts of the local economy really are. Local food, entrepreneurship, opportunity, public policy, tourism, energy are all part of a thriving local economy. Because this year’s conference was in Phoenix, I came away inspired by the support system a state like Arizona has for their local businesses. There is no reason we cannot have a more cohesive local business voice in New Mexico as well.

I also returned with a real interest in exploring the opportunity to have more collaborative discussions about how businesses can work together, and how non-profit and economic development need to have more cross-industry communication. A truly successful local economy includes many pieces; fitting them all together is the challenge. 

Finally, showcasing our diverse local offerings helps New Mexico stand out and will continue to knit the community together.  If we can take on the challenge of how to steer visitors (and locals) to local establishments we make our diverse local offerings part of the collective reason our state is so unique.

AC:  What lessons can we apply to our local food-based businesses?

CHR: I think the main lesson is that food is at the heart of the local ecosystem, so food businesses are in an exceptional position to make real economic impact. While we love to talk about the large successful companies, the real driver of business are the micro businesses with 10 or fewer employees. Because food is such a huge part of our culture and tradition in New Mexico, cultivating more of these businesses makes good economic sense.

Food has the opportunity to touch a wide number of people. Most of our state is considered a food desert with access to healthy foods being a real challenge for many families. The more we can support local food enterprises, the more communities have access to food that is usually less processed, made with more care, and easier to distribute due to its geographic proximity. Local food does not have to mean expensive top-shelf items found only in specialty stores. It can also mean fresh, healthy, and accessible products. Also, local food businesses can make a real difference to a family’s income.  The stronger we make our support networks for local business development and promotion, the more we make real shifts in the daily lives of people all around our state.

AC:  You talk about the importance of networks.  Why are these important?

CHR:  When we talk about support networks for local business, we are talking about the creation of a community. Networks help people to come together, learn from each other how to be successful, share experiences and challenges, and promote their success. Business networks not only build a business, they help to grow it. Many people in food businesses are becoming entrepreneurs because of a passion for their product and since their background is not usually in business management or marketing, these networks are especially important to help them get access to skills and services. In addition, being able to talk with peers who understand their experience first-hand helps new entrepreneurs feel less isolated.

AC:  It’s a global economy.  Why is localism so important?

CHR:  Localism allows people to feel more connected to the place and people where they live and the places they visit. People tend to remember and return to the places where they feel special and local businesses have that built into their character. Customers inherently appreciate a meal that was made with care, seeing the proprietor’s family eating at the table near them, or that feeling of buying a product where you know the story of how it was made and what is in it. For local business owners their drive is often a passion to share something they care about with their customers or clients. With food, this can be even more personal as they are often sharing family recipes that have been passed down for generations or are sources of pride when enjoyed by loved ones.

BALLE demonstrates that local businesses help to build healthy neighborhoods by providing a connection to a community.  This is, in part, because local businesses circulate more of every dollar back into their local economy through local taxes, services, partnerships, and wages. The Institute for Local Self Reliance has shown that a marketplace of small businesses helps to ensure competition, innovation, and low prices over the long term.

AC: What else can we be doing to support our local businesses and does this help the overall economy? What is one small change that Albuquerque businesses can make that will have a positive impact on the local economy?

CHR:  The best thing we can do to support local businesses is to think local first.

Albuquerque businesses can help each other by thinking about other local businesses as potential clients/customers or services that will keep more money circulating in the local economy. Choosing to patronize other local businesses can also build your network of potential clients. Local businesses are more likely to be looking for and sourcing locally accountants, graphic designers, printing, legal advice, etc. while large chains often source all of those services out of state. Just one shift could help a small business make payroll or hire a new employee. As we think local first, we create relationships in our community that will build a sustainable local economy ecosystem.

View this and other ag news in the July issue of Local Food Connections >

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