Local economic resilience and local job security should form the basis of Alabama’s economic future. Further evidence proves it works and shows a starting place;  a new, comprehensive 16-county assessment of the Northeast Ohio regional food system has been released. (“Comprehensive” is an understatement.) According to the author of the report:

The study concludes that if residents and businesses of Northeast Ohio spent 25 percent of their food dollars on local farms and businesses, 27,500 new jobs could be created while increasing economic output by $4.2 billion and generating $126 million in local and state taxes.

According to the assessment, 73 percent of every food dollar goes mostly to trucking, distributing, refrigerating, packaging and preserving food for long-distance shipment. Potential jobs that can result in localization include farming and livestock, food processing, distribution, educational services, health care, as well as additional jobs induced by increased local spending.

Alabama should find some great encouragement on the jobs-front considering the state of our lingering high unemployment. Detailing these potential 27,500 new jobs:

We group them broadly into three categories: retail, restaurants, and consumer service; farming and animal growing; and food processing. By far, the largest number of new jobs, roughly 10,000, come from farming and animal growing. About 5,000 come from retail, restaurants, and consumer service. And about 4,000 come from food processing. The remaining 8,500 jobs come from the indirect and induced impacts in other sectors, summarized in Chart 16.

To put these numbers in perspective, recall (see Chart 3) that unemployment in the region right now is over 214,000. Unemployment throughout Ohio is now above 10% and in some of the counties in the region it’s over 12.5%. The 25% shift therefore has the potential to put one out of eight currently unemployed workers in the region back to work.

The report also assesses the positive effects of the 25% shift on energy independence, public health, quality of life and decreased pollution.

You would think that policy-makers would respond when report after report confirms this positive dramatic impact of re-localizing our food supply. This study for Ohio further confirms the documentation shown already from other nationwide studies and state-specific examples from Georgia, Michigan, and Minnesota.

The report even includes some very creative policies for implementing the 25% switch. For instance,

1. Modify the competitive bidding law to allow agencies and local officials to include the “multiplier effects” of local-dollars spent locally.

No one wishes to undermine the basic principle of good government that contracts should go to the lowest-cost bidder. A better approach might be for the state to obtain
representations from every bidder about how much of the bid will be spent in-state. A quick multiplier analysis can be done to determine how much additional tax revenue the state will collect. Bidders that spend more in-state will generate more tax revenue than bidders that spend out of state. By adjusting the bid by the anticipated tax revenue, the state can better calculate which bidder is truly delivering the best price. Moreover, because non-local vendors can perform equally well under this approach, the measure is not discriminatory and therefore legally sound.

2. Redirect economic development dollars and incentives to locally-owned business instead  recruiting out-of-state industries.

A soon-to-be-published study by one of the authors of this report will show that the three largest economic development programs in the state are spending most of their funds on attracting or retaining non-local businesses, which turns out to be the least effective strategy for stimulating the economy and creating jobs. Such funds should focus instead on local food business. Better still,
focus on providing seed capital for food meta-businesses throughout the state.

The report literally contains over 50 other specific recommendations which could easily be modified to meet Alabama’s needs and implemented without a single tax increase. We actually could expect more that 27,500 jobs because the region in Ohio of the study has about 700,000 less people.

For the sake of job-creation, economic recovery, community resilience, energy independence, let’s move our economic development policies into the 21st century.

Each time you purchase a loaf of bread at your grocery-store or that your child consumes at school (or tomato or strawberry or steak or peach for that matter), let it be a reminder:

Every loaf of bread unnecessarily imported means the leakage of bread dollars outside the local economy and the loss of local bread business that could contribute to regional prosperity.

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