Economic Resilience #4. Resilience-building businesses and industries
In the past 20-30 years, the concept of “outsourcing” has stripped most of our local communities of the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker – the craftsmen, merchants, and artisans who have skills and know-how to provide the basic goods and services we need for everyday living. Even in these times of economic contraction, supporting our local businesses is essential, because with the transportation limitations that will come with the end of cheap oil, local will become our mainstay.
As we have outsourced basic industries like manufacturing, textiles, clothing, many of those small businessmen who do remain in our communities have turned to luxury industries. Small businesses in my own neighborhood include nail and hair salons, dry cleaners, high-end retail boutiques, and lots of restaurants – mostly things that we could do without, particularly as we trim our budgets with hard times.
Other small businesses currently in my neighborhood are linked to industries that we within the Transition movement know will disappear with the end of the oil age (car repair, car rental agencies, detailing shops, travel agencies, airport support services) and as the global economy crumbles (insurance sales and real estate agents). The few local merchants who do remain today are often reselling products from the globalized market. Businesses in these kinds of industries won’t provide much resilience within our community as the triple crisis unfolds.
How we can help
As local consumers, here’s how we can help the process: For starters, shift to buying local for yourself and your family, and create a Buy Local campaign in your community. Patronize your local farmers (farmers markets, CSAs). Vote with your buying dollar and support local businessmen rather than chain stores. (Why)
Then, use the new relationships you forge with these local businessmen and help them begin to grasp what lies ahead and the role of community resilience. You very well may find that they are looking for ways to replace lost business; they may be quite open to shifts in their product line.
If I shopped the plant section at the big box store, I would never have gotten to know Deno, my local nurseryman. He’s on our Transition mailing list now, and he attends our events when his schedule permits. In an affluent community in metropolitan Los Angeles, his nursery now has in-ground vegetable plantings on display, and carries raised-bed frames for veggie gardens. They’re considering bringing in chickens, to which I said “Sell chicken feed!” We don’t have a feed supply in this area of the city, and his store could become a one-stop homestead shop.
Moving into the future
As we develop new industries within our local communities we would be wise to broaden our definition of “resilient” to include the ideas of the global justice movement – that peace, social justice, community, ecology and feminine characteristics are all part of the definition of the human condition and the “new operating system” of a wiser future. (ref James Gustave Speth, Bridge at the End of the World, chapter “New Consciousness”)
It will probably build the greatest local resilience and flexibility if the new resilience-oriented businesses are set up to deal in a multiplicity of financial vehicles – local currencies and LETS credits, as well as U.S. dollars. (see #5 in this series) Resilience-building businesses and industries are the wave of the future as far as new business opportunities, enduring livelihoods, investment opportunities, and community survival networks.
- Strategic Local Infrastructure pattern
- “The 200 Artisan Skills Required to Make a Victorian Town Functional,” Rob Hopkins (the comments are noteworthy, too)
- BALLE (Business Alliance for Local Living Economies) - This organization understands portions of what we are striving for. They understand the need for local, and they understand much of the need for lighter environmental impact. We Transition groups will have to help them understand peak oil and the need to unhitch from the presumption of growth.
- Take the ideas of the “Declaration of Interdependence” of the B Corporations and go local.
- See “social enterprise” at bullet #6 of this series
- Lyle Estill, Small is Possible, an account of the unfolding process as businesses and neighbors in a small Southern U.S. town begin to transition from the conventional economy toward Relocalization. A bit of green-tech, but shows the evolution of community views.
Questions we might invite our local businesses and proprietorships to consider:
1) How dependent is your overall industry on oil, power, low-cost transportation and shipping -- can your industry survive as we leave the era of cheap oil?
2) If your industry will survive, it will undoubtedly be radically altered. How?
3) If your industry cannot survive the end of cheap oil, what industry might you shift into, which is better able to survive? Would you need to retrain?
4) Since "globalization" as we know it today won't survive the end of cheap oil, how will this change things for your business' supply lines?
5) What raw materials might be available here locally that you could shift to using in your business? Who do you know here in our local geography who might be able to become suppliers for your business? (Do they know about peak oil?)
6) If you knew today that over the next decade the move would be toward much greater localization, how might this affect your business' investment decisions?
7) How dependent is your business on the current structure of national and international financial markets (stock market, mortgage banking, insurance, etc.)? How dependent are you upon government funding? grant funding? Is it possible for you to shift to a more local framework? Does a local framework exist, or conceivably, could it be created?
8) As we phase back from five-planets-worth-of-consumption to something better aligned with one-planet-worth-of-consumption, how will this alter: your business model? your volume & turnover expectations?
9) If you knew today that the overall economy would be in the process of contracting or shrinking rather than growing -- say for the next five, ten or more years -- how might you approach: taking on debt? lease commitments? franchise contracts? extending credit?
10) As our ability to transport ourselves and our goods around the planet becomes much more restricted, how might your ideas change about: business travel? trainings, conferences, conventions? hiring local residents? living close to the site of your business?
11) If there were a local currency in our area, or markers for a barter network, might your business consider accepting them for some transactions? Might you consider accepting these markers for a certain percentage of a purchase? Might you consider using local barter to handle some of your business needs?
12) Consider the type of goods or services your business offers: Are they luxury items? or do they fulfill basic needs, which people will still need even through leaner economic times?
13) As you look around our local geography, what is missing? What basic needs might go unfilled? Might your business be able to step in to handle any of them?
This post is an excerpt from a longer paper, "Economic Resilience," which is being posted online in serial form. Part I explains the problems, because we have to understand what we are working with in order to begin to solve it. Part II critiques what several economic theorists see as possible routes forward for the “big picture” economy. But the central question of this document is what we can do at the grassroots level. Part III (approximately 70% of the document) offers a panorama of ideas for building local economic resilience. Links to the full document can be found here.
Joanne Poyourow is the initiator who brought the ideas of the international Transition movement to many areas of Los Angeles. She is actively involved in the Transition Los Angeles city hub. She was a CPA in public practice for more than 13 years and now offers resiliency consulting.