Local Economy/Local Businesses/Local Jobs – April, 2011

When our newspaper headlines are dominated by unemployment figures and budget shortfalls at all levels of government, one can’t help but think about economics. Gross Domestic Product, balance of trade, Federal Reserve policy – the big picture, macro level of economics seems somehow distant, and abstract. What about here in Somerville? What does our local economy look like? And what does our future hold?

In the recent “Laying the Groundwork for the Next Economic Cycle” presentation to the Board of Aldermen, the city’s Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development (OSPCD) reported that over the last 20 years there has been almost no job growth in Somerville. The presentation concludes that Somerville is at a pivotal moment in its history, and that financial sustainability and our quality of life requires thousands of new jobs here in our city.

Where will these jobs come from? The OSPCD presentation suggests that we identify the next wave of innovation and build relationships necessary to attract these industries to Somerville. While it is exciting to think of having the headquarters of the next Google or Genzyme here, encouraging and protecting locally owned businesses may be a reliable economic engine. A 2008 study of the economy of Grand Rapids, Michigan found that for every $100 spent at a locally owned business, $32 left the local economy; of the $100 spent at a non locally owned business, $57 left the area. We don’t need to wait for the Green Line extension, or the arrival of the next new technology to do this. Through our city’s ordinances we can limit the number of big box stores. We, like Boston, can require public and private developers to employee local residents first. We can, as Somerville Local First suggests, shift our shopping to support locally owned businesses. Failure to do so jeopardizes our financial sustainability and our quality of life.

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