The importance of shopping local this season

This holiday season the mantra to shop locally is stronger than ever with impending changes in the local economy.

Economic development officials and other organizations say buying at local retail stores allows the community to remain self-sufficient.

Clint Seibel, Hillsboro?s economic development director, said it?s all about unity.

?I try to buy all (services and merchandise) in Marion County before I go anywhere else,? he said. ?Our sales tax pays for our infrastructure?roads, bridges, other services. If we buy out of county, we end up paying for their roads, bridges and infrastructure.

?Then we drive all the way back here and pay for ours, too.?

Teresa Huffman, director of Marion County Economic Development, agreed with Seibel. Although Huffman said she doesn?t know how much people buy locally, she does know the impact of doing so.

?Some people are very aware of the advantages to our communities by shopping local and they will continue to shop local as much as they can?and some people will never have that level of awareness.?

Keeping people here

Huffman cited the Marion Ace Hardware Store as an example.

?The new hardware store has made a huge impact on the community and their shopping habits,? she said. ?Our county is not large enough to carry everything we need.

?When people are going out of town to pick up items they cannot buy here, they will pick up other items, such as groceries, that they can purchase here, but they are already out of town.?

Customer service is one way local business can strengthen their clientele.

?Business hours in rural communities are not always shopper-friendly for families that work full-time jobs,? she said. ?By the time the families are off work, most (local) retail stores are closed.?

In addition, she said, weekend hours are shortened and several businesses close at noon Saturday and are not open Sundays, which means families leave town to shop and eat out.

?Some rural communities have one night a week, usually Thursday, where businesses will stay open late so the working families can shop,? she added.

Huffman said people who work out of the county will do their shopping in the area where they work because when they arrive home, businesses are closed.

Difficult to measure

Terry Jones, economic development director for Marion, said the number of people buying local is difficult to gauge.

?I certainly hope they are (buying local), and I?ve been trying my best to educate people on why it is so important,? he said.

As economic director, Jones said he has done a lot of research on the subject.

?(Consumers) may be paying a little more at the register to shop at home, but are they looking at the other costs associated with going elsewhere?? he asked.

The IRS standard mileage rate is 56 cents per mile, which includes factors such as gasoline and wear and tear on a vehicle.

For a round trip to Hillsboro from Marion, the cost is $11.20, Newton is $18.48 and Wichita is $32.48.

?If someone drives to Wichita, they have to be saving over $32 at the register to get back even with shopping at home,? he added. ?Also, we can?t forget the two hours just sitting in your car.?

Hypothetical

Using Carlsons Grocery ads a hypothetical example, Jones said each full-time employee is offered free health insurance.

?This is a big deal, but if enough people are driving out of town to buy groceries then the revenue at Carlsons will go down,? he said.

?Any business in this situation would try to figure out how to cut costs so they can stay profitable, and there goes the free health insurance for their employees.?

Taking into account the people that were shopping out of town can directly be responsible for their neighbors, relatives and friends losing health insurance.

?These employees are now going to have to pay for insurance out of pocket, which is going to cost quite a bit,? he said. ?When half of their paycheck goes to health insurance, they have less money to spend in local businesses.?

Jones said he has had frustrating conversations with people who shop out of town a lot and think it?s all right.

?I?ve had way more conversations in which the person understands the importance of shopping local and shops local whenever they can,? he said.

Seibel said he believes Wal-Mart?s arrival in Hillsboro will help build a shop-local unity.

?(Wal-Mart) will collect sales tax for the county and all the effort will be in buying local first,? he said.

Official say a community can?t wall itself off from the outside world in regarding to buying local, but they do hope local consumers will make a dedicated effort to buy in Marion County first, and then, if it?s not available here, go out of town.

?There is a natural boundary line that includes all of our towns and it is the county line,? Seibel said. ?If someone buys something across the county line, their taxes go somewhere else, if someone buys here, taxes go here.?

Jones added: ?I understand there are things that someone can?t get in town or in the county,? he said.

?I?m not saying anyone that shops at a big-box store in another town should be strung up. I?m just asking that people think before they buy, and buy local when possible.?

Enhancing business

In early January, the Hillsboro Free Press and Marion County Economic Development are co-sponsoring a seminar titled ?Thinking Outside of the Big Box,? which will be open to all businesses.

Seibel said he, Jones and Huffman are getting the word out about this customer service seminar to help Marion County businesses.

?I say all of our businesses need to know customer service regardless of who are competition is,? Seibel said.

?I also think this is a great way for Hillsboro and Marion to get together and make an effort to encourage people to shop in Marion County first.?

Keeping money in Marion County, creating more opportunities for local residents to work here and keeping employment levels stable are only some of the major goals for vitality, officials added.

With the holiday season in full swing, the best gift a community can give itself is the benefits of a strong local economy and the public infrastructure that goes with it, Jones said.

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