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Think and grow rich 

You can help add 2,000 jobs here simply by changing how you think.

At least, that's the idea behind the "We Think Local" campaign, launched within the Colorado Springs business community last week in hopes of getting people to ponder where they spend their money.

With unemployment at record highs — more than 28,000 in the Springs area are currently without jobs, according to the Colorado Springs Regional Economic Development Corp. — the EDC is pushing to keep our wealth at home.

"If we all did 10 percent more [business] locally, it would create 2,000 new jobs," says CEO Mike Kazmierski, basing his figure on research from a 2008 visit to Austin, Texas, to study its thriving economy.

The campaign here encourages people to think local before they purchase, hire, fly, eat and more.

In response to the EDC's push, the El Paso County commissioners and Colorado Springs City Council have already adopted resolutions saying they'll contract as much as possible with local businesses — though they won't give them special breaks. (Some governments, Kazmierski says, give local firms a 3 percent to 5 percent advantage.) They're starting by trying to streamline the bid process, which some local firms have called confusing and burdensome. Commissioner Amy Lathen says the county has started to "peel away confusion and bureaucratic layers."

"Obviously, we must determine the best value for the citizens' tax dollars, which may at times lead us to a non-local company," she says in an e-mail, "but if all things are equal, we will support the local company."

County records show that in 2009, the county contracted for $77 million worth of goods and services, with 70 percent going to local vendors, 24 percent to other vendors in Colorado, and 6 percent to vendors elsewhere.

City spokeswoman Mary Scott says by e-mail that in 2010, the city spent $53.8 million on contracts locally, or 46 percent of the total. Another $17.9 million went to firms within the state, and $44.3 million to out-of-state bidders. A big sum, $26 million to build Proby Parkway to the airport, went to Minnesota-based Ames Construction. She notes the project includes several bridge spans, and that there was no local bridge-building company. (Ames has subcontracted with several local firms for the project.)

Similar think-local efforts are underway in cities from Hawaii to Alabama.

Started eight years ago, the Bellingham, Wash., "Think Local First" program found in 2006 that three in five residents were "making significant changes in their purchasing behavior."

Today, says program manager Michelle Grandy in an e-mail, "72 percent of folks in our county recognize the Think Local First logo and over half ... said they often or always consider whether or not a store or restaurant is locally owned."

To demonstrate its program's impact, Santa Cruz, Calif., persuaded five banks to give away $100 with the condition it could be spent only in locally owned businesses. The money circulated dozens of times, generating "as much as $15,000 in additional commerce in as little as 30 days," according to thinklocalsantacruz.org.

Kazmierski isn't making such grandiose claims. Nor is he encouraging people to shun big-box stores in favor of locally owned businesses: "Go to [locally owned] Pikes Perk or Starbucks here, but not in Denver," he says, noting that chain stores pay taxes and hire here. "They're still investing in our community."

zubeck@csindy.com

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