As the ‘buy local’ movement continues to grow, we’re taking a look at some of the movement’s most powerful pioneers. Throughout the country, there are lots of hardworking men and women helping to spread the word about the importance of buying local, and the individuals on this list are just a select few that stand out to us. These men and women have written books, founded small business networks, started and run small businesses and, most importantly, inspired others to adopt the mission along with them. In no particular order, here is a look at a few of the most influential people of the localization movement.
Together, Drs. Thomas and Wilkinson authored The Distribution Trap, an award-winning book that encourages independent retailers as the superior business model to big-box chains like Wal-Mart and Home Depot. As an innovative perspective on marketing and business practices in America, The Distribution Trap was awarded the Berry-American Marketing Association Prize for the Best Marketing Book of 2010.
Separately, Drs. Thomas and Wilkinson have impressive resumes as well. Thomas is Associate Professor of Marketing and International Business at the University of Akron and the author of 15 books. Wilkinson is the Charles L. Boppell Dean of the School of Global Commerce and Management at Whitworth University and the author of 35 research studies.
In 2001, this indie-minded duo founded the American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA), which helps communities across the country to launch local Independent Business Alliances aimed at bringing local business owners together to strengthen their communities and the localization movement in their area. To date, AMIBA has helped to form more than 80 Independent Business Alliances in the United States and Canada. Both Milchen and Rockne remain very much involved with AMIBA as co-directors of the organization. They bring with them a passion for driving the localization movement, as well as personal small business backgrounds. Milchen has had a successful start-up business in Vermont, and Rockne’s family boasts a four-generations-old independent business.
Joe Grafton serves as the director of Development and Community Engagement at AMIBA, but his work with the ‘buy local’ movement ends far from there. He is the founding Executive Director and current Board Member at Somerville Local First, an alliance in Somerville, Massachusetts, dedicated to growing local businesses and educating the community about the localization movement. In addition, he serves on a number of other boards and committees in the New England area focused on supporting independent businesses, including the Sustainable Business Network of Massachusetts and the New England Local Economy Network.
Laury Hammel is the founder of the Sustainable Business Network of Massachusetts and the co-founder of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE). No stranger to business ownership himself, Hammel is also the President and CEO of The Longfellow Clubs, a combination of sports clubs, health centers, and children’s centers in Massachusetts known for its environmental responsibility and community service work. Through his business and the business networks he has created, Hammel promotes the characteristics that make local businesses great: innovation, sustainability, and a dedication to the local community.
Judy Wicks is a triple threat. She is the co-founder of BALLE, author of Good Morning, Beautiful Business: The Unexpected Journey of an Activist Entrepreneur and Local-Economy Pioneer, and the founder of multiple successful, indie-minded businesses. She started the White Dog Café, a restaurant known for its responsible business practices, and the Free People’s Store, now known as Urban Outfitters. She also founded and owned Black Cat, a store that specialized in locally made and fair-trade gifts. For her work, Wicks has won numerous humanitarian awards, and she continues to promote sustainable business practices and the localization movement as the founder of the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia and Fair Food, an organization that promotes the local farm movement and operates a local farmstand in Philadelphia.
Michelle Long is the executive director of BALLE and the author of Building a Community of Businesses: A BALLE Business Network How-to Kit. Prior to her position at BALLE, she was the co-founder and executive director of Sustainable Connections, a business network in Bellingham, Washington, credited with transforming the city of Bellingham into the “epicenter of a new economic model,” according to NPR. Through each of these positions, Long has been instrumental in creating and growing networks of independent businesses around the country. She was named one of the West Coast’s “Top Five Leading Ladies of Sustainability” by the Sustainable Industries Journal.
As the CEO of the American Booksellers Association, Oren Teicher has been an advocate and voice for independent booksellers across the United States. His work with independent bookstores has spanned more than 20 years, during which he has contributed to various independent business alliances and independent retail trade associations. He has also worked on the ABA’s Indie Bound initiatives, which support and promote locally owned bookstores across the country.
Another powerful lady on our list, Kimber Lanning is the founder and director of Local First Arizona, a nonprofit organization that supports community development through small business growth in Arizona. Lanning uses her role with LFA to work with policymakers and political officials throughout the communities of Arizona to make the state a better environment for small businesses. She has also served as the director of the City of Phoenix Development Advisory Board.
Stacy Mitchell is a senior researcher with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, an organization committed to building communities through small business and economic independence. As a senior researcher, Mitchell analyzes data and research about the state of our nation’s communities and businesses. She also directs the ILSR’s initiatives on independent businesses. She contributes to professional publications regularly, and in 2012, she gave a TEDx talk related to small businesses and the economy. Mitchell is also the author of Big-Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-Retailers and the Fight for America’s Independent Businesses.
Matt Cunningham and Dan Houston are the founders and partner consultants at Civic Economics, a firm that provides policymakers and business owners with research and tools to make informed decisions about the business environment in their communities. Together, these partners-in-numbers have carried out and published most of the landmark research studies used to promote the importance and economic benefits of supporting local businesses. Cunningham has previously worked with businesses and government in the Texas Business Industry and Data Center for the Texas Department of Economic Development. He has also worked as a research analyst for an economic development firm, where he focused on economic impact studies. Houston has experience with strategic planning and consulting as a senior project manager at a national firm focused on technology-led economic development.