LANSING — The Michigan Economic Development Corp. has partnered with Local First, a West Michigan economic and community development organization, in a two-year pilot program intended to build a stronger local and regional economy.

“Locally owned independent businesses are the foundation of a healthy, vibrant economy,” MEDC president and CEO Michael A. Finney said. “We are pleased to support Local First’s efforts to strengthen Michigan-based businesses and to grow our regional economies.”

Founded in 2003, Local First is a nationally recognized leader in sustainable economic and community development. The nonprofit organization currently partners with nearly 600 independent businesses and community organizations in West Michigan.

As part of the pilot project, Local First will expand its efforts beyond Grand Rapids to work with businesses and organizations in Grand Haven, Holland and Portland. A staff person will be hired to collaborate with community leaders in the new areas and work with member businesses. The home office in Grand Rapids will serve as the base of operations and the new Local First staffer will maintain a frequent presence in the new territories.

“We are very pleased to work with the MEDC. We see the State of Michigan’s investment in our efforts as responding to the rapidly rising demand for local businesses, products and services,” said James Berg, Local First board president and owner of Essence Restaurant Group. “Study after study has shown that locally owned businesses play a truly unique role in building vibrant, sustainable communities and creating good jobs.”

The intent of the pilot program is to increase awareness of the importance of supporting local businesses and to gather data which will lead to potentially new or improved programs that can support small businesses. This effort ties in with the overall placemaking effort which seeks to help communities with creating a sense of place which leads to the attraction and retention of talent. 

“There is a strong history of successful business entrepreneurialism in this region that has been lost in many other places around the country. We need to retain this culture,” said Emily Loeks, director of community relations at Grand Rapids-based Celebration Cinema. “We can do this by naming it, by asking business leaders to share best sustainable business practices with each other and new entrepreneurs, and by making the choice more clear to consumers. Local First champions each of these objectives.”

In 2008, a study of Kent County, “Local Works!” by Civic Economics) showed that shifting $1 in $10 currently being spent towards locally owned independent businesses would create 1,600 jobs and nearly $140 million in new economic impact in the county.

“Local First builds meaning and pride in the value of an entrepreneurial local culture,” said Chris Lampen-Crowell, owner of Gazelle Sports.  “My business is stronger financially, stronger environmentally and has deeper relationships with others because of our Local First membership.”

Local First will work with community economic development leaders including chambers of commerce, Main Street programs and local economic development organizations to engage local business owners and support them through a marketing and public relations campaign.

MEDC will track the success of the pilot program by measuring several items such as business growth, both in terms of sales and jobs, local business start-up success rate versus failure rate, ratio of local business to non-local business, and public awareness on the benefit of thinking “local first.” This data will be used to potentially create new or improved programs that can support small businesses that help create a sense of place. 
The MEDC markets the state with a focus on business, talent, jobs and helping to grow the economy. For more on MEDC and its initiatives, visit


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