Newton County residents don’t have as many local shopping choices as they would like, but the only way to attract more businesses is to spend more money at the local ones that already exist.
That’s a big reason why the Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business Committee is kicking off its Buy Local Campaign, an educational campaign to inform residents of all of the benefits of shopping locally. In support, local officials from the county and municipalities signed proclamations declaring September Buy Local Month.
Newton County residents do a lot of their shopping in Rockdale County, and even some in Morgan County, which makes those communities more attractive to future businesses and takes away valuable tax dollars from local governments.
Rockdale County has an estimated 15,000 fewer people than Newton County but its median household income is $66,749 while Newton County’s is $54,896, and based on those numbers spending would be expected to be equal. However, Rockdale County receives $1 billion more in retail sales than Newton County, at $1.78 billion compared to $755 million.
Lisa Oglesby, the Chamber’s Director of Programs, said businesses look at those spending numbers and follow the money.
Chamber President John Boothby said if residents say they don’t have any choices in Newton County and then shop elsewhere, they won’t ever get those choices here, because businesses won’t come.
"We can’t guarantee you will have more choices if you buy local, but we can assure you that if you don’t, you won’t have choices in the future," Boothby said.
While business officials agree that some things can’t be purchased in Newton County, many products can. Residents can choose where to buy their gas, groceries and clothes, and local officials want to convince more residents to choose Newton County.
"We realize it’s a choice. People can choose to go over the county line and they may have to, but they can choose to shop here and support local businesses," said SBC Chair Gena McLendon, of Merryvale Assisted Living. "We need to be very intentional about buying local when we’re shopping."
The lack of spending in Newton County not only discourages businesses from locating here, but also increases unemployment and hurts local governments.
County Chairman Kathy Morgan agreed that the extra revenue is an important factor in determining the county’s yearly budget, and that extra money can help pay for buildings, recreation services and schools.
She said that when national chains are looking at communities, they make their decision based on how much money residents have and where they spend. Oglesby said right now businesses are seeing that Newton County residents are willing to drive elsewhere, so those businesses are locating elsewhere.
Porterdale Mayor Bobby Hamby, a former small business owner, said that in addition to the big chains, residents should remember the local mom-and-pop stores. He said people often say products cost more at smaller shops, but in many cases those products are cheaper and higher quality.
In order to get the word out about the benefits of buying local, the SBC is going to be sending out brochures and handouts, attending local events and talking to people in person and putting programs on local TV and on YouTube.com. The committee has even created its own Web site: buylocalnewton.com.
McLendon said SBC officials will be out and about in the community and would be attending the business expo and Fuzz Run on the weekend of Sept. 11 and were planning on being at the mid-November Twilight shopping events.
Several local business and governments have donated thousands of dollars and hours to make the Buy Local campaign a reality and they’re hoping Newton County citizens will be willing to give back.