Local First supports West Michigan

Grand Rapids is a city booming with local businesses, big and small, and this economic success wouldn’t be nearly as strong without non-profit organizations such as Local First. Though Local First isn’t exclusive to Grand Rapids — it also has branches in Arizona and Holland, Mich. — they all have the same idea of helping regions be sustainable, economically vibrant and thriving through an economy grounded in local business.

Local First was first founded in 2003 as a group of seven business owners dedicated to promoting local businesses in West Michigan. They formed a partnership with the Business Alliance for Local Living Economics (BALLE) and called themselves BALLE West Michigan. Centered in Grand Rapids’ uptown business district, they became easily accessible to owners and advocates of local businesses in the area. Later, they named themselves Local First, as reinvesting in individuals and local businesses is their priority.

In 2007, they were partnered with 150 businesses and begun to grow exponentially once they hired their first full-time executive leader. By 2009, they had expanded to 500 business partners. Currently representing over 800 West Michigan businesses and staffed with seven full-time and three part-time employees, Local First is the largest organization advocating for local businesses in the Midwest.

Local First has made it their mission to help communities thrive through local business and attempts to achieve this with a seven step process. Their first priority is to engage and create relationships with the community. Following this, they preserve economic value, nurture business environments, strengthen development through businesses and citizens working together, investing in a sustainable local economy and encouraging connections between customers and businesses in order to facilitate interaction and discovery. Finally, they intend to enrich the community through reinvesting success in customers, employees and the local community.

Local First defines “local” as “not a place, but people,” according to their website, which further emphasizes their intentions of putting the individuals of a community first. More specifically, Local First defines “local” as headquartered in West Michigan, locally owned, privately held and not a franchise.

Not only does Local First advocate for these businesses by simply partnering, but they also use their social media to celebrate the successes, using Facebook and Twitter to both introduce new businesses that have joined Local First and support events, such as the renovation of the United Bank of Michigan and the grand opening of Roots Brew Shop. Local First also shares information about what is offered through local chefs, restaurants and farmers.