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Editorial: Economy, heal thyself

Amuch-needed boost for Rowan Countyís economy could be right in our own pockets and company coffers. Targeting more personal and business-related spending toward local businesses would give Rowan a healthy shot in the arm.
Cabarrus County leaders recently commissioned a study by Michael H. Shuman, a Stanford-educated economist who wrote ěThe Small-Mart Revolution: How Local Businesses Are Beating the Global Competition.î Cabarrus commissioners have received a draft of Part One, and it makes interesting reading.
The title of Shumanís report sets the tone: ěGrowing the Cabarrus Economy from the Inside Out.î Shuman advocates supplementing conventional economic development, largely centered on industrial recruitment, with a ěprivate-sector led entrepreneurship policy.î Nurturing local businesses, he says, should be just as important as wooing outside businesses to relocate or build new plants here.
Rowan County commissioners are already on that wavelength, and so is the economic development commission. Companies already located in Rowan may apply for and receive incentives from the county for expansions, and several have done just that.
The effort to help build local businesses can dive deeper than incentives, though. Shuman says communities should find and plug the leaks in the local economy. In other words, what goods and services are businesses and consumers paying for elsewhere? Once you figure that out, he advocates investing in local businesses that could serve those needs just as well. Shuman refers to this as a ělocal-living economy.î
Of course, an idea thatís good in theory usually has practical shortcomings. The live-local conceptís greatest challenge is the near-universal desire (and need) to get the greatest value for the least cost. Selection and availability are also big issues, especially in small towns. But just as ěleast costî has driven U.S. manufacturers to take their jobs elsewhere, it also drives consumers and businesses to spend elsewhere and outsource functions ó shooting their own local economy in the foot in the process.
No community can be completely self-sufficient; the global economy is here to stay. But the idea of identifying local leaks and fostering new businesses to serve those needs merits exploration. Basically, itís entrepreneurship in action, with the additional aim of using local dollars to nourish and grow the local economy.

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