Why ‘buy local’ should matter to Mesa County
There’s no question that the Grand Valley is in a better position today to recruit primary jobs than it was just a few years ago, thanks to a series of developments stemming from greater buy-in to economic development theory.
Business and government are cooperating on an unprecedented scale locally to improve the economy. But what about consumers? They play a role, too, as we’ll explain, but as the third leg of economic-development stool, they’re coming up short, creating wobbly results.
The main tenet of economic development is to create, recruit or retain primary jobs. These are jobs that produce goods or services for customers who are predominantly outside the community. It’s the influx of “outside” dollars that help grow the economy. They have a much greater ripple effect than the money we pass back and forth in the local consumer market to buy gas or groceries, for example.
Pursuing primary jobs falls largely to the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, which received a significant boost from its government partners last year. Government also stepped up to create the Rural Jump-Start Tax Credit Program, which has already helped bring eight companies to Mesa County with the potential for 600 new jobs by 2020. The city of Grand Junction recently approved a change to its sales-tax collection practices that will direct around $350,000 a year to economic development efforts. And GJEP acquired 15 new “investors” last year — local businesses that pledged $36,000 because they understand that attracting primary jobs helps their bottom line by adding consumers to the marketplace.
All this activity in pursuit of primary jobs raises questions about our spending habits as consumers. Why do we try so hard to attract outside dollars into the community, only to turn around and give our money to online retailers or shop in Denver or Salt Lake City?
Nationally, e-commerce retail sales account for about 8 percent of total sales, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. The city of Grand Junction’s 2017 sales and use tax revenues through April amounted to a little more than $14 million. That’s putting us the city on track for $42 million in tax collections for the year.
Assuming that amount is 8 percent less than it should be to account for online sales, we’re talking about $3.6 million in lost revenues — money that could be spent to improve the community in a variety of ways. That doesn’t include what the county is losing.
It’s not just private consumers who are part of this equation. How often do we see schools, hospitals or local governments procure services, studies or supplies from outside the community?
There are all sorts of pitfalls and ways in which “choose local first” promotions can backfire. But as many resources as we’re putting into economic development, it seems community members could stand to learn more about ways they can help the local economy best meet their needs.