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T Q&A

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When Tucson native Lisette DeMars heard about Phoenix-based Local First Arizona--a coalition of locally owned Arizona businesses banding together to save mom-and-pop businesses and fight corporate homogenization--she signed on as the Tucson membership coordinator. Since opening the Tucson chapter in May 2008, DeMars has helped the nonprofit gain a footing in the Old Pueblo and has pushed Tucson membership to more than 100 businesses. With the global economy crashing and the green revolution looming, DeMars suggests strengthening the local economy and joining the local community. For more information and a directory of members, visit the Local First Web site. (Full disclosure: Hank Stephenson has done some application-peddling for LFA.)

What is Local First Tucson doing?

Local First Tucson just launched about six months ago, and we reached our first goal of 100 members, and we're working on drumming up membership so we can start launching more events down here. ... One of the programs that we're working on that has been hugely successful is the locavore dinners, where you can get a five-course meal. It's all locally grown food and local wine, and usually, these would be $80 to $150 plates, but ... we raise funds, and we get grant money, and we get people to sponsor it, and so now, it's $40 a plate.

Why does it matter if I spend my money at Walgreens as opposed to a mom-and-pop drugstore?

If you spend your money in a local business, 45 cents out of every dollar stays within the state. If you spend it at a big-box store, only 13 cents stays there. That's the economic reason. There's also the cultural reason of encouraging diversity and competition. If we homogenize everything into big-box businesses ... then we lose the unique flavor of our own cities, and we also lose the competitive nature of having a diverse group of businesses offering different things, different goods and different services.

What is the Wist bill?

The Wist bill is a Senate bill we worked on in Phoenix. Arizona is one of three remaining states in the United States that don't (give preferences to local businesses). So what that means is the city of Phoenix had a $5 million bid for office supplies. ... OfficeMax bid on it, and so did Wist. Wist is a third-generation, family-owned company, (with) 100 percent full-time employees, all with full benefits. OfficeMax is 62 percent part-time employees (with) no benefits. And they bid the same bid. Our law says in the case of a tie, you pull a name out of a hat. That's it. So we kind of got cranked up about this, because, of course ... they pulled OfficeMax out of the hat.

What is the 10 percent shift?

That is a campaign we're hoping to launch in mid-March. ... The concept is if we can shift 10 percent of consumer spending--so if just one out of every 10 trips to Starbucks, you choose to go to a local coffee shop instead--there's a significant economic impact within our own community. A study in Grand Rapids, Mich., showed that a 10 percent shift in consumer spending to locally owned businesses would create 1,600 jobs and generate $1.6 million more within their economy each year. So it's really a mentality. You may really love Wal-Mart; that's OK. But if we can just teach you the economic and social benefit of supporting your neighbors one out of every 10 times, we will see a benefit in our community: more jobs, more money.

How receptive has Tucson been to the idea of shopping locally?

I'd say so far, it's been quite successful. We beat Phoenix to the punch in proclaiming a Buy Local Day. ...We also have a city that, I think, mentally is very prepared to protect our culture and diversity. Tucson is a really unique community-oriented town, and all of the individuals and businesses I've been working with are very receptive of the concept of bonding together to protect our town, to protect our businesses.

Anything else?

Local First Arizona is more than just a networking group; it's a resource for businesses, and it's also a resource for citizens. We're working on more than just connecting communities to local businesses; we're also working on advocacy projects so that our representatives are walking the walk--they're also supporting local contractors and local suppliers. It's a big picture, not just a small picture.

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