Local economy its own worst enemy

This graphic from the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce in 2012 says the group helped companies that added jobs. The Chamber says existing companies create 80 percent of jobs.

As a journalist interested in local economy and free markets in Chattanooga and beyond, I have come to see not just the strengths in local economy, but its many weaknesses.

One of them is the inarticulateness of some of its major players. If you run a business started by your dad, and you have rivals in our city that are corporate chains, do you know how to explain why local people should shop with you? If your competitors in Chattanooga or East Ridge are giant corporations, are you able to explain to customers why you are better? What sets you apart? Why should I shop with you and not Wal-Mart?

Many important actors in local economy are unable to make the case about how their family-run companies stand apart from their competitors.

Do family businesses understand the conflict?

I represent a radio station in Soddy-Daisy that broadcasts my daily show, hoping to make a living by selling advertising for Copperhead 1240. These interactions with local shops and service providers let me meet potential advertisers and potential talk show guests.

Last week I paid a visit to a family-run retailer. My first visit a week prior and a follow-up email had been about radio spots and how they could help bring business. This visit had a different purpose. It was to get Sam (so I’ll call him) on the talk show. I couldn’t get him to agree. My line of conversation was by query. I asked questions such as those in Paragraph No. 2 above. “That’s not something I feel I can do,” Sam said. He turned to a nearby brother and asked, “Would you like to be a guest on this man’s talk show and talk about [our] business?” The brother said, no, too. Sam insisted, finally, “I’m just not sure that I can help you on this.”

I had a similar experience with a couple — the founder’s daughter an her husband — who run a Soddy-Daisy store. I invited them as guests on my talk show to tell my listener who they are and what they do. Two visits and three phone calls bore no fruit. Cajolery and and my air of friendly innocency made no difference.

I concede going on radio makes some people nervous. Some folks lack a gift of gab. Still, local economy is its own worst enemy. If you run a local business and cannot tell me how to distinguish it from a competitor, you have a problem.

Let’s be self-conscious in local economy arguments

I quit my job as a newspaper editor to explore local economy. I was already convinced by the beauty and soundness of the concept. But I quit a full-time gig to serve the public on Nooganomics.com.

My work requires me to articulate why local is better than national, why small is better than big, why near is better than far, why home is better than hotel, why farm is better than grocery, why liberty is better than occupation, why family is better than bastardy, why grace is better than coercion and why faith in God is better than faith in man.

It also requires that you, my reader, and you my potential advertiser, to be articulate. On your business, your service to the public, on your calling, you ideally are ready to equip your customers with the rationale that will drive them to favor you over the alien corporation that has seized your market.

My friendly offer to help you succeed

If you are unable to spell out what sets you apart from your national competitors, let me help you. I can help you find the story in your law office, your accounting firm, your financial advisory service, your retail outlet, your friendly service.

If you run a local business and want me find the story and the distinction in your business, call me. What sets you apart from your national competitors? Perhaps I can help you bring important distinctions from the back of your mind to the tip of your tongue.

Here’s my card:

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