Locally Owned Businesses Are Largest National Employers

Dear Sasquatch,

I can’t help but notice how many small businesses there are in Bellingham and Whatcom County. It seems like every street I turn down, I encounter a new delightful place to explore — whether that’s a bakery, a brewery, or perhaps a combination of the two! My question for you is this: what’s so great about small businesses? And, a follow-up question: I have family visiting this summer, and I’d love to show them the best of the small biz scene here. Any suggestions?

Curious Consumer

Drink Local First this spring and summer!
photo: Annika Sampson

Dear Curious Consumer,

You’ve certainly noticed what many folks in this area know to be true — small businesses are the heart of a community. And, we’re extremely fortunate to live in a region that celebrates and supports them, creating a vibrant local economy. You ask why small businesses are so important. Well, as I sit here in my treehouse out in the Mount Baker Wilderness (equipped with WiFi), I’ve been doing a little digging with the help of Sustainable Connections’ Think Local First Program, which supports and promotes local businesses.

I like to think of the local economy as a reciprocal relationship. It’s a give and take, ideally in a way in which neither businesses nor consumers are depleted in the process. That’s because local businesses reduce environmental impact — business owners make more local purchases (requiring less transportation) and set up shop in towns or city centers, which gives you a community with less sprawl, congestion, habitat loss, and pollution.

Small local businesses also create more local ownership and good jobs — did you know they’re the largest employer nationally, and, in our community, provide the most jobs to residents? Up to 90 percent of net new jobs in the United States are created by locally owned businesses. 

Not only that, but local businesses provide you with better service and a better selection. After all, their owners and employees live and work in the same community as you, which means they’re tailoring both their services and products to a much more specific need than a national chain. 

I’ll give you one more plug for the power of local businesses, and it’s all about creating a vibrant and thriving economy. For every $100 spent at a locally owned business, $68 recirculates and remains in our local economy. Compare that with the $43 that remains in our community when it’s spent at a national chain. Local businesses are owned by your friends and neighbors who live in this community. They’re less likely to leave and more invested in this community’s future — just like you. 

Small businesses create communities that are more prosperous and connected, strengthening the foundation of our entire community. Not to mention, there’s a certain joy to be found in knowing the folks who make your food, catch your fish, repair your car, and so much more — it creates a sense of belonging that’s impossible to replace with a purchase from a big box store.

And now for the fun part! How can you introduce your family to the wonders of Whatcom in summertime with a focus on small businesses? Well, I’m practically leaping out of my tree with glee to tell you about Sustainable Connections’ Drink Local First promotions that run through the summer months, highlighting all the ways to drink local first during this season of abundance. 

During the summer, you and your family will no doubt be feeling thirsty. ‘Tis the season of hydration, and Whatcom County is more than ready and excited to meet your beverage needs. Beer is a Pacific Northwest staple, and for those so inclined and of age, this region offers almost 20 breweries — though by the time this goes to press, there could be at least a couple more! And, while beer is beloved for a reason, there are many other ways to imbibe that will show your family the best of Bellingham (and surrounding areas). This community is home to distilleries and vineyards galore that showcase the natural bounty of our farmlands. 

Of course, there are many folks who don’t consume alcohol, and there’s a plethora of delights to enjoy for them as well! Many bars and breweries have delicious nonalcoholic options, and you’ll never want for local kombucha in this town! Tea and coffee shops abound, often replete with local pastries to pair with a perfect latte. Drink Local First highlights all the nonalcoholic wonders of Whatcom — and shares recipes to make incredible mocktails with local fruits, herbs, and seltzers. 

Stay tuned come summer for all the ways to Drink Local First, but in the meantime you can check out drinklocalfirst.org for a preview of all you can anticipate sharing with your family!

I hope that answers your questions, Curious Consumer! I myself can’t wait to lounge in the sun with an ice-cold local beverage, taking in the beauty, and appreciating all the small businesses that make this community come alive. 

With gratitude,


Annika Sampson is a Sustainable Connections staff member.

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