An Open Letter to Jim Gray: Go local young man

November 3, 2010

Dear Mayor-elect Gray:

Congratulations on your victory.  I have enjoyed working with you in the past and look forward to working with you in the future.

As you have 57 days until you are sworn in, I know that you will have some time to consider the actual direction of your administration. Your “Fresh Start Plan” does indeed point to a fresh start in many areas.  I simply urge you to begin thinking of yourself as a truly “Local” Mayor, one who puts “local first” in the frame of all decisions. Most of the following was either expanded on from your Fresh Start Plan, or was created as a compliment to the ideas contained in that document.

A Local Mayor will support expanding the local food system.  This will entail taking the actions that will enable local food entrepreneurs to expand growing and processing operations, as well as creating new opportunities for sales such as food trucks, carts, and markets.   A Local Mayor will also use the power of the position to get local food into schools, hospitals, and the jail.  A Local Mayor will make food education a cornerstone of his administration.

Here’s an example:  Lead the creation of a Lexington Local Food Cooperative (LLFC), a 100% worker-owned, hydroponic, food production greenhouse located in the heart of Lexington. This can be a profit-driven business that could employ more than 40 people and allow them to earn equity in the company.  This would create sustainable jobs and local food in Lexington. We can start with our potential customers, including food retailers, wholesalers and food service companies, who could give us their thoughts on what products they would like to see available, and how LLFC might identify a niche in this market.

A Local Mayor will create a partnership between the residents of the core of this city’s neighborhoods and some of Lexington’s most important “anchor institutions” – the University of Kentucky and its hospital, Transylvania University, Central Baptist and Saint Joseph Hospitals, the Blue Grass Community Foundation, Commerce Lexington, and many others to help us to transform Lexington and change lives.  This partnership should foster innovative models of job creation, wealth building, and sustainability. We should strive to build employee-owned, for-profit companies that are based locally and would hire locally. We would create meaningful green jobs and keep precious financial resources within our community. Our workers would earn a living wage and build equity in their firms as owners of the business.

Here’s an example: this partnership could help the formation of a hospital linen laundry business.  The concentration of hospitals in the core of the city makes this a sensible idea. We could create a LEED Certified commercial laundry facility. This employee-owned business could help hospitals cut costs, improve efficiencies, and improve environmental practices.

A Local Mayor will lead the way in developing alternative energy sources.  We must reduce our dependence on energy generated with fossil fuels for several reasons – the impact on global climate, the devastation that mining brings to our regional ecosystems, and because reliance on a single source of power leaves us vulnerable to the dramatic price spikes that the coming oil shock will bring.

Here’s an example: The City could lead in the creation, with many of the partners listed above, of a company that owns and installs PV solar panel arrays on institutional, government, and commercial buildings – The Lexington Solar Partnership (LSP).  This company could be 100% owned by its workers who live in Lexington and face barriers to employment.  The LSP would be well capitalized to take full advantage of the job creation opportunities in the green economy.  By qualifying for many tax credits and incentives at the State and Federal level, LSP can assist our local institutions realize their commitment to carbon neutrality by conveniently deploying generators of safe, clean and reliable electricity.  At the same time, LSP can help lower the energy bills of their neighbors by reducing the heat and cooling leaks and providing a comforting blanket of extra insulation.

Our customer list would include the City, University of Kentucky, Transylvania University, Library Facilities, local hospitals, as well as neighborhoods targeted for home weatherization.

A Local Mayor will put economic focus where it belongs:  on local business. Cities all over the world are competing for capital and people.  Current economic development goals are simply to make a big splash of providing lots of jobs, regardless of their quality. We may have our share.  But a long-term, sustainable economic development strategy must be based on economic localization.  These are the types of businesses and jobs that are not nearly as vulnerable to global economic and energy shocks, that can’t be outsourced, and whose profits and income circulate through the local economy again and again.  And as you’ve outlined in your “Fresh Start Plan,” you favor this idea.

Here’s an example:  Madison, Wisconsin, like many cities around the nation, has implemented a local purchasing preference.  There are two primary potential public benefits to the City of Madison adopting a local preference purchasing, or Buy Local, policy. First, buying locally retains and circulates more money in the local economy. Second, the City’s adoption of a Buy Local policy would encourage area residents, businesses and other units of government to also buy locally.

How it’s done: Bids. The acquisition of commodities over $5,000 is typically done by bids. Generally, the only criteria used in making the determination is purchase price. For these purchases, local vendors are provided a 1% preference. If a local vendor submits a bid within 1% of the lowest non-local bidder, the purchase is awarded to that local vendor. Requests for Proposal. RFP’s are typically used to acquire services over $5,000. They are evaluated against criteria in addition to purchase price that can include timeliness of delivery, past performance and other factors. RFP’s are scored against these established criteria. Local vendors are provided with a bonus equal to 5% of total available points.

There are some limitations: Due to state law, Buy Local policies may not apply to public works projects. Due to federal restrictions, federally funded programs are also exempt.

A Local Mayor will invest in job training for the kinds of jobs the 21st century needs.  A Local Mayor promotes education and training that increases personal, community and regional security by building entrepreneurial capacity to produce basic needs like food, water and energy as close to home as possible. Self-reliance increases local resilience, saves energy and creates a foundation for world peace. These jobs will bridge the transition from a high energy society to a lower energy society.  They will be the jobs that help us improve energy efficiency, add energy capacity to homes and businesses, that repair and restore the machinery of modern life, that heal our earth, and that build true community.

A Local Mayor will grow community capital. “Locally owned, small businesses constitute about one half of the private U.S. economy in terms of output and jobs, but they receive almost no investment from the nation’s pension funds or from mutual, hedge, venture, or any other kind of investment funds. Nor are locally owned businesses common beneficiaries of the billions of public dollars spent each year on economic development incentives and subsidy programs at the federal and state level.”  By working with local partners, a Local Mayor could mend these market failures by creating new and better opportunities for community residents and business owners alike to financially support locally owned enterprise.

Here’s an example:  Mechanic’s Bank in San Francisco – “While we admire the national support that bigger, multi-state banks provide to major organizations, we firmly believe that a community bank’s activities, whether commercial or philanthropic, should benefit the people in the areas we serve. Our loans focus on businesses and individuals in our area, and we don’t make charitable donations unless they directly benefit our local communities.

“This year, we have committed to ongoing donations of $1,000 per employee to organizations in the communities where we operate. While the total may seem small compared to some major corporations, its impact is magnified because every dime is spent locally.”

A Local Mayor will work to ensure that Lextran functions as efficiently as possible for all citizens. The oil shock will make driving alone to work much less appealing.  By having a clean, reliable, and fast bus service, we can offer an cheaper, environmentally sensitive alternative.  We can also help solidify our city as one that “gets it.”  In doing that, we will be even better positioned to keep and attract the kinds of people who will help us move all of our local initiatives further along.

Here’s an example:  Continue the wonderful Art In Motion bus shelters at strategic spots, but absolutely make it a priority that every stop have cover.  Further, utilize our local digital talent to create real –time bus route information available on smart phones, and ideally, on the shelters themselves via plasma screens.

A Local Mayor will make sure that pedestrians and bicyclists are at the front of all transportation decisions made in the city. The number of bikers on our streets has exploded this year, as more people realize that biking is healthier, cheaper, better for the environment and simply more fun.  Rising energy costs will entice even more people onto the streets in the coming months.  Complete streets must not be a concept, but a living practice.  We must continue the work already begun on complete streets here

A Local Mayor will help the community tell its own stories and support local artists, musicians and craftspeople.  A Local Mayor will be creative in finding ways for artistic expression to shine.

Here’s an example:  Project Storefronts in NYC – “The project involves storefronts, of course. But instead of the accustomed window-dressing that is all that most art/business relationships amount to, Project Storefronts invites artists to open the shops themselves and become small-business entrepreneurs. They keep regular hours (in this case 11 a.m.-6 p.m., often extending those hours for opening receptions and other special events). They price their work clearly and reasonably. They retain good relationships with the other artsy retailers in the multi-store complex. Yet these small businesses can’t be mistaken for standard gift boutiques or museum shops. They aren’t overstocked, or compromised by the need to stimulate impulse-buys. They’re art-driven, not sales-driven.

Still, Project Storefronts has been constructed on principles as economic as they are artistic, as developmental as they are experimental. The program acknowledges that, as hard as it is to create art, selling it can be harder. So it lets artists focus on art by removing one of the main headaches of brick-and-mortar shopkeeping: It waives all rent and utility costs. This freedom to experiment with the entrepreneurial model is fundamental to what makes Project Storefronts a unique and groundbreaking bridge between the arts and business communities. But in allowing the stores to be used as stores and in involving the artists as responsible tenants and not just decorators, Project Storefronts is building a dialogue that landlords and economic development committees understand.”

In closing, a Local Mayor will realize that for a multitude of reasons, the short term future won’t be like the long-term past. That realization will lead to action to begin the replacement of the tools that our city has for too long used.  Tools that get us a suburbanized downtown, zoning regulations that prevent small home based enterprises, policies that favor multinational corporations over local business, stale  economic development practices that only pit us in unfavorable global competitions, and the band aids applied to too many vital systems as if that alone would get us where we need to be.

As you can see, this is nothing but a detailed exploration of the ideas found in your Fresh Start Plan. But by placing every action and decision within a “local first” frame, you can help us get to where we all want to be.




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5 responses to “An Open Letter to Jim Gray: Go local young man

  1. Aaron German

    Very nice. Bravo.

  2. Tim

    Steve, you should submit this to the HL, see if they might take it and do almost a full-page opinion piece.

  3. sherry maddock

    thanks for this most thoughtful piece which is certainly hope-inspiring

  4. geoff

    nice one, steve.

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