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The Little City that Would

March 17, 2011 By Mari Harries, Minnesota 2020 Contributor

Frank Tyger, a nationally published cartoonist, columnist and humorist, once said “Your future depends on many things, but mostly on you.” This is my attitude when it comes to local economic vitality, thus the birth of Windom’s very own support local campaign, “The little city that would.”

Support local campaigns are becoming increasingly important in both big cities and rural communities for merchants trying to preserve market share as big box retailers encroach. In rural Windom, our strategy is twofold. We want to keep what businesses we do have, but also encourage regional entrepreneurs to start up or expand in Windom. “The little city that would” campaign is a friendly reminder for community members about the power they possess—the power our local consumers have over our economic livelihood.

The initial strategy is simple: a slogan and logo. Now, we have to get out there and make sure they’re engrained in all aspects of the community, from businesses to the schools to community groups. We must round up those with the skills and capabilities throughout the community that can contribute in spreading the word. It is no surprise that when an initiative is commonly supported within a community, it progresses. It’s the old “I scratch your back, you scratch my back” mentality to get things done, and it works.

We want Windom area shoppers to remember the logo and hopefully it triggers a conscious effort to support local businesses and local organizations. There are a number of reasons to do so, especially in a small town.

It might be tough to find true supporters when a quick 28 mile trip down Highway 60 to Walmart exists. Oh by the way, in rural time, miles are equivalent to minutes. In other words, a Windomite can “Save money. Live better” just up the road. Even with the increased price in gas, the mentality that you can save money by going to Walmart still exists.

It is what we have been doing since the invention of the modern car—we go out of town. It’s a luxury, and it has become second nature. And while we get out of town on the weekends, we do our shopping. Why? Because we can. It’s funny. We don’t really have to leave town for most household goods. Windom has clothing spots, a hardware store, flower and gift shops, farm and fleet suppliers, a general store, and even a place to buy antiques.

The idea behind “The little city that would” isn’t about fighting big box retailers, it's about reminding our community that they have a choice. It is a choice that fundamentally supports not only businesses but our local schools and organizations that ask these businesses for donations. Successful local businesses give our younger generation inspiration that entrepreneur opportunities exist in rural towns. There are numerous reasons the choice should be made to support local and “The little city that would” is dedicated to reminding our community to make the local choice.

After doing some research about support local campaigns and how effective they truly are, I was pleasantly surprised to find out how such a simple concept can make such a big impact.

The New Rules Project, part of a Minneapolis-based public policy group, conducts an annual national survey of independent businesses. It found that for four years in a row “communities with an active ‘buy local’ campaign run by an Independent Business Alliance or Local First group have experienced markedly stronger revenue growth compared to those located in areas without such an initiative.”

We have the slogan and the logo, we have the facts to prove the success of such efforts, and are slowly gaining momentum of local support, but how will a small, rural town really respond to this current movement that has emerged? Are they as optimistic as I am? Will we be the little city that would? We will soon find out.

Mari Harries is an active campaigner for Windom’s buy local campaign and founder of the blog Finding Windom.

Logo illustration courtesy of Crystal Barlow-Jensen

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