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Honors Lecture on the New American Economy

By Kayt Ludi
K. Laning

The theme for the Honors Forum Lecture Series for the 2013-14 academic year was “The Culture of Competition.” During the last lecture of the series, Kimber Lanning spoke about “Finding a Place in the New American Economy”. The lecture was hosted by Mesa Community College (MCC).

According to Dr. Shari L. Olson, President of South Mountain Community College (SMCC), who introduced the speaker, Lanning is “an entrepreneur, arts advocate and community activist who works to cultivate strong, vibrant communities.”
Lanning founded an organization in 2003 called “Local First Arizona”, a non-profit devoted to educating people about the economic and cultural benefits of locally owned businesses.

Lanning grew up in Glendale in what she describes as an “artsy family.” She originally dropped out of college to open a record store, though she later went back to school. She followed this by opening Modified Arts in downtown Phoenix a gallery in what was then, according to her, a very rough neighborhood.

She and a fellow gallery owner began the First Friday events that are now a large part of cultural life here in Phoenix, and turned the run-down neighborhood into an arts Mecca. She gives credit for this achievement to the “power of what small businesses can do when they work together.”

The goal of Local First Arizona, and the main point of Lanning’s lecture, was to encourage people to spend their money locally whenever possible. As Lanning put it, “We’re voting with our dollars every day.”

Local First Arizona runs several different programs, one of them being “Shift Arizona” – the goal of which is to have Arizonans shift just 10 percent of their spending to local businesses. According to Lanning, for every $100 spent in a local business $45 stays in the community. While the same $100 spent at big box stores only results in $13 for the local economy. And for every two jobs created by a big store coming into town, three local jobs are lost.

Lanning explained that local governments provide major incentives to big businesses to open locations in their cities; believing that jobs will be created.

According to Lanning, Cabela’s is the number one business in the nation for receiving subsidies from local governments, averaging $25 million per store. However, when its location in Glendale opened it actually received a total of $68 million in subsidies, including free land. Big businesses are even given something called “tax abatement” where they are allowed to pocket the sales tax they charge customers instead of it going to the community.

But Lanning pointed out the discrepancy between what makes a good job versus a poor one, and warned that we are “going to end up with clerks and shareholders and not much in between” if our economy continues down the path we are currently on.

She noted that Walmart is the largest employer in Arizona, and that most people shop there because they think the chain has the cheapest prices. But 83 percent of Walmart employees nationwide utilize their state’s Medicaid programs. Lanning said that if we factor in the cost of subsidizing healthcare for their employees (and health care is the number one expense for big businesses) through tax dollars, Walmart suddenly is not so cheap anymore.

How hard is it to shop locally? Lanning said she is not asking people to only buy all their clothes from a tiny boutique downtown that is only open for two hours on Tuesday afternoons. But things like getting a local oil change, seeing a movie at Harkins, or shopping at Basha’s all count as small changes we can make to support locally owned businesses.

And even when you do have to dash into Walmart, try buying your milk from Shamrock Farms instead of a non-Arizona based dairy. Little things add up and can make a big difference.

For more information on Local First Arizona, please visit: