Buy Local, Eat Local, Think Local! Sounds good, right? Buying local keeps money circulating in the local economy—creating stable jobs, stronger communities and a healthier environment. Sounds like a no-brainer, but “thinking local” can really make your head spin. What is local, really?
Is it food that is grown here? What if it is grown here, but with seeds, fertilizer and fuel that were imported? What if a locally owned bakery makes mochi with imported flour? A big box retailer that sells local, organic, sustainably grown produce? A plantation era store that has been in the community for years and sells an eclectic mix of canned goods and fishing supplies—none of which is manufactured here?
To further complicate matters, what is a locally owed business? Is a locally owned franchise local enough? Do the owners have to live on the island?
Currently, most of our local definitions for local revolve around 51%.
The official definition of Made in Hawai‘i product is that at least fifty-one per cent of the wholesale value is added by manufacture, assembly, fabrication, or production within the State. For food products, the item must be wholly or partially manufactured, processed, or produced within the State from raw materials that originate from inside or outside the State and at least fifty-one per cent of the wholesale value of the perishable consumer commodity is added by manufacture, processing, or production within the State.
These definitions accommodate the baker, clothing company and surfboard manufacturer. All local businesses that can’t currently purchase their raw materials from within the state because they aren’t available.
In terms of defining a local business one definition is that at least 51% of business ownership and operations is located on Hawai‘i Island (or State of Hawai‘i or choose an island) and that the business is registered in the state of Hawai‘i with no corporate or national headquarters outside of the state. Locally owned business can be additionally defined by the amount of control owners and manager have, and whether or not they can make independent decisions regarding the business and its purchasing, operations, and marketing.
At the deepest level, the ultimate “local” business would be 100% locally owned and would sell, manufacture or grow products that are comprised of 100% locally sourced materials. However, we have locally owned businesses that sell imported goods and we have mainland or foreign owned businesses that sell local goods.
Local comes in many subtle shades and colors. Given the complexities, how do we get more local and grow the local economy?
Michelle Long, Executive Director of the Business Alliance for Living Local Economies (BALLE) is one of the nation’s foremost experts on growing sustainable, local economies. She defines local with a concept called LOIS—Local Ownership Import Substitution.
According to Long, “An essential building block to growing the local economy is to support businesses that are locally owned and import substituting, or LOIS for short. Local ownership means that the majority of the business owners live in the community. And import substituting means that if it’s cost effective to produce goods and services locally, a community should do so wherever possible. LOIS develops the economy from within and takes full advantage of local talent, capital, and markets.”
1. Wherever you are shopping, look for Made on Hawai‘i Island and Grown on Hawai‘i Island food and other products. If things are not labeled, ASK where they are made or grown.
2. Think about import substitution: Can you eat taro, sweetpotato or breadfruit instead of rice or bread? Can you choose the local beef over the mainland beef? If it comes on a barge or plane, ask yourself if you can find it here instead!
3. Can you shop for computer gear at a locally owned store instead of online? Can you buy books at the used bookstore instead of online?
4. If you are in a big box retail store: Can you choose the local lettuce?