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Bringing it home: plug the leak of money, jobs

The only thing I have to add to that is Wow!

That was the summation from City of Willits Community Development Director Alan Falleri at the end of Going Local, an all-day Oct. 15 workshop at Ridgewood Ranch.

The workshop, attended by about 80 regional participants, was facilitated by Michael Shuman, Washington D.C.-based economist, attorney, and author of Going Local: Creating Self-Reliant Communities in the Global Age.

For the upbeat Shuman, the predicted decline of the oil-based economy is an opportunity to replace TINA (there is no alternative) economies, that enrich global corporations, with LOIS (locally owned import substitution) economies, that create prosperous communities.

LOIS businesses, Shuman stressed, cant pack up and go elsewhere to avoid regulations protecting labor and the environment.

The transition from TINA to LOIS, he said, involves using local assets to plug the leaks through which money and jobs leave the area. He presented the case of Salisbury, MD where assets included high unemployment and acres of abandoned agricultural land. Leaks included thousands of dollars spent on the importation of chicken from large-scale meat industries.

Whats wrong with this picture? Shuman asked in utter deadpan, drawing a laugh from the audience.

Part of the new picture, launched with Shumans help, is the community owned, operated, and supplied Bay Friendly Chicken company, a venture creating fair local employment, stimulating farm growth, and providing a multiplier effect strengthening the local economy.

In Mendocino County, Shuman said, a similar effect could result from a local-food-purchase policy on the part of such large entities as Mendocino Community College. The commitment would encourage local farmers to invest in producing the necessary food; taxation of prosperous farms would fund local government; and an enriched local government would be able to spend more on community colleges.

In big cities, he said, a similar agreement could be made with farmers in adjacent counties, a vision addressing the fear that rural county residents with food will be invaded by city residents without if the oil-based economy collapses.

Even while the current economy holds, Shuman said, localization reduces the desire for control of Middle East oil resources, ending support for monarchies that behead the opposition and wars against uncooperative regimes.

I dont know what homeland security is if not localization, Shuman said.

The general public may be starting to feel the same way.

Shuman said his audience has expanded from Battle of Seattle anti-globalization activists, to local governments and business organizations.

The mainstream is getting it, Shuman said. Ive been speaking in places like Idaho, Wyoming, Utah. Its remarkable how much resonance (the concept) has there.

Another aspect of what is beginning to look like a localization movement is the growth of networks of mutual support and shared resources connecting local businesses, governments, and institutions. The Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) has helped to create 21 of them across the United States and in Canada.

Merrian Fuller of BALLEs San Francisco office cited an example from Philadelphia: A restaurant owner wanted meat from farms where ecology is respected and animals are raised humanely. She loaned money to a trucker to purchase the sort of vehicle and equipment needed to bring in the food. He, in turn, offered incentives to local farmers to provide the desired product, creating a new local industry.

Both Fuller and Shuman pointed out LOIS economies are likely to be diverse, meeting a variety of local needs. TINA economies, on the other hand, tend to produce company towns subject to collapse when the major employer goes broke or finds cheaper labor elsewhere. Seattle, for example, lost 75,000 jobs in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks when Boeing Aircraft and its suppliers failed to receive new orders for planes and materials, according to an article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Large corporations that remain operational may take more than they give. Wal-Mart, Shuman said, has received about $1 billion in what amounts to state and local subsidies over the past 10 years. Another $2.5 billion provides public assistance to employees making less than a living wage.

Even stand-alone global corporations may not be as competitive as they seem. Bank-o-saurs, Shuman said, are among the monstrosities created by mergers that provide a one-time spike in the stock of the companies being absorbed and a one-time hike in the salary of the CEOs of the companies taking over. After that, he said, the inflated banks try to cut losses by decreasing the interest rates on consumer savings and increasing the cost of checking accounts.

Bank-o-saurs are also less likely than the smaller varieties to invest in local businesses, which cant be evaluated by the rise and fall of stock prices. Local banks and credit unions, by contrast, have eye-witness evidence of the solidity of a local business and its role in meeting community needs.

The stress on community needs, cooperation, and environmental protection made the Oct. 15 workshop a spiritual event for the administrator of the Little River Band of Pomo Indians.

My name is Lois, Ms. Lockart told the crowd, drawing applause.

Other enthusiastic participants included Willits City Manager Ross Walker; city council members Holly Madrigal, Ron Orenstein, and Karen Oslund; members of the Willits Economic LocaLization (WELL) group; members of the Coast Economic Localization Link (CELL); and several people from adjacent counties.

The workshop was sponsored by the City of Willits Community Development Department, WELL, North Coast Opportunities, Willits Action Group, the Howard Hospital Foundation, the Economic Development and Financing Corporation, and the Willits Chamber of Commerce.

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