Where Did I put That Dollar?

Several projects I’m involved with have shined a new light on the economic realities of the region in which we live.  The sad truth is Clarion is smack in the middle of a very depressed area.  Based on the grave statistics, one can readily deduce that a lot of families are struggling all around us.

Regions such as ours act like a magnet for assistance dollars, and well-intended funds flow in from various state and federal programs to try and curb the rampant cycle of poverty.  Most of those dollars flow back out of our area when they are spent at discount chains that plant themselves near populations stuck in a perpetual cycle of finding something cheaper as a means of ‘saving money.’

To say the absolute minimum about a gigantic topic, state and federal dollars seem a slippery slope that leads to exploitation and the continuation of the very scenario they’re trying to fix.  Simply, someone else’s dollar is easier to waste than one earned, so the impact of a stimulus package is greatly reduced when those on the receiving end aren’t willing to fight the full value out of every penny.  Before accusing me of pointing a judgmental finger at one particular echelon of society, consider that I’ve watched the destruction of several public-supported markets when upper level management misused the gifted funds.  The syndrome of wasting someone else’s money spans all classes.

When we consider a task as monumental as reversing a trend of poverty that plagues a geographical location, though, it’s hard to see a way forward that doesn’t involve government money.  Comparing the household budget my wife and I live on to the required capital that can construct a dream, I shake my head and accept that change may be impossible.  How on Earth could we fund such a big project?  It’s too expensive.

Or is it?

Where do we put our money?  Sit outside of a gas station for ten minutes and watch what people carry out of the store: it’s mostly ready-to-eat food that came from…somewhere.  Those dollars leave the pocket of a local and head out of town to…somewhere.  In October the CDC reported a staggering 36.6% of adults eat fast food – that handed through a window – on any given day.  (Hey millennials – it’s mostly us, the champions of changing the world; oops, right?)  All that fast food money leaves town and goes…somewhere.  I’m regularly flabbergasted by the things people ‘need’ to buy, which are often purchased at the lowest price possible from a retailer that sends money…somewhere.  Sometime’s I’m blown away by how carelessly I spend money.  In fact, when a person really starts looking, it becomes painfully obvious that we put most of the money we earn into fast-flowing aqueducts that carry it out of our area.  Then we turn around and ask for more when we’re trying to change the system.

The impact of a town’s population – all of us - deliberately using just a third of our daily expenditures at small businesses in town would make a federal opportunity grant look like chump change.  There is a bakery in Clarion that’s doing quite well for a small business; the owner sells coffee, baked goods, and homemade hot lunches to an enthusiastic following of people.  Imagine if one out of every three people at Sheetz gas station up the street instead picked up lunch at Sweet Euphoria every day – the business would be booming!  That money would stay in town and then circulate through other businesses when the bakery proprietor used them to have an oven repaired, her carpets cleaned by professionals, and to buy food for her family.  A July 4, 2012 article in Sustain Ontario calls re-using local money ‘The Multiplier Effect’ and states ‘…the more a dollar circulates in a defined region, and the faster it circulates, the more income, wealth, and jobs it creates.’  Compare that to a dollar that’s used to pay a distant distributor, who paid a distant importer, who paid a global headquarters in another part of the world.  Careless spending exports money.  Who wants to keep doing that?

We need to be careful where we put our funds.  If it’s haphazardly handled someone else will be more than happy to pick it up and use it for us, but when we’re deliberate about dollar placement they stick around town, revitalizing a depressed region.  No, it isn’t as convenient as the crap we’re accustomed to, but I have yet to find one business book that says honest, long-lasting viability of any economy arrives through the easiest channels. 

I’m working on my own spending habits, pausing at each step to consider the final destination of the funds entrusted to my care.  Will they stick around town, or am I putting them on a fast train headed to anywhere but here?  I find tremendous pleasure each time our family budgeting improves to include small business.

If we put all the money we spend back into Clarion, the depression would evaporate as livelihoods improve, resulting in a better situation for all of us. The challenge is convincing people to get behind a dream instead of a convenience store.How do we change a deeply rooted tradition of seeking a ‘deal’?