In Hay River, staying tuned into the community is just good business. The town of 3,500 is full of “smart people” who understand the value of giving back according to Steven Anderson, owner of a number of businesses and the vice-president of the Hay River Chamber of Commerce.
“The chamber is proud to have more than 110 members made of local businesses that are part of the community,” he said, adding that throughout Small Business Week, the chamber highlighted members by advertising them on their powered billboard and congratulating them on their success. “We have a very progressive community. We’ve got a lot of smart people in town who are business-oriented and work hard.”
At or near the front of those business brains is the idea that shopping local is good for the entire community. Several municipalities and chambers of commerce have published studies on the bouncing buck effect, or the benefit of buying local. According to one group in Greater Victoria, B.C., for every $100 spent in local stores, $68 stays in the community. That compares to only $43 for stores based elsewhere.
The exact figures fluctuate from place to place across the country and have not been worked out for Hay River but in a small northern town the effect can be pronounced. Anderson said many communities in the South Slave are competing with each other and northern Alberta for the travelling shopper.
“Other communities have similar challenges in terms of drawing people in,” Anderson explained. “People here go to High Level, people in High Level go to Grande Prairie, who go to Peace River, who go to Edmonton. There is the ‘get-out-of-town’ thing, but if you shop out every weekend, is that supporting your local community?”
Hay River businesses employ Hay River people, and both pay Hay River taxes. Seven of them have banded together to offer Chamber Coins. “If a company employs 5, 10, even 30 people, that money is being reinvested and filters down.”
While those economic benefits are trickling down from the top, several businesses are working from the grassroots up. After donating $500, the companies deliver milk to more than 250 students at three Hay River area schools once a week throughout the school year.
“That program alone is an $8,000 touch (and) we’re looking at ways to increase it to ensure kids have a healthy choice to help build a strong body and mind,” he said. “The only way to support that is to shop in the community where you’re at.”
He was quick to point out the donation came from customers who agreed to round up their purchases to the next dollar, more than the store itself, but Anderson’s own Super-A store recently facilitated a $9,620 donation to Lights On, which provides a healthy, safe and active place for youth and teens to go on the weekend. It was more than double what a “round-up” for Lights On collected in 2013.
“It’s just tremendous,” Anderson said of his customers, many of whom offered to add $5 or $10 to their donation. “It gives you a nice warm feeling when you see people really care about it.”