NEW ALBANY — New Albany is evolving. Public art has become more prevalent in the downtown, drawing more locals and outside visitors to our community; bringing more publicity. The river front is alive with music and other events. Dilapidated buildings have been refurbished through private investors and nonprofit sector assistance. On Sundays it is now sometimes difficult to find a parking space in front of your favorite restaurant. Used to be a person could count the number of people working down here on two hands, and those that lived down here on one. You didn’t always need all your fingers.
Today we see a new and different community. New Albany is evolving. During the recent holiday season, a grass roots movement started. It is simple in its concept and certainly critical to the survival of the local business community.
New Albany First is this community’s answer to the growing competition as cities across the metro-area and state refine their efforts to keep the local dollar within the confines of their communities. NAFirst is this town’s first organized, organically grown “Buy Local/Buy Independent” program. It grew out of a $300 investment that produced 5,000 fliers that were distributed to 40-plus locally owned businesses during the last holiday season. That flier described the impact a single dollar spent with a New Albany business has in terms of creating jobs and leveraging other dollars spent locally. Three months later, those flyers are still sending out their message.
The response to that initial offering has proved that there is an interest and the desire to see this type of program in New Albany on a larger scale. This is a town of entrepreneurs. It is a hidden industry in this town. Entrepreneurs need to be supported. This program does that. The local entrepreneur industry without question brings in people from across the metro area and probably from outside that area as well. The more we become known for these locally grown businesses, the more successful New Albany will be, and the more outside dollars will come into, and stay, in New Albany.
Because of the response to that flier, a group of citizens came together, developed a plan and consequently have created a budding new nonprofit organization that, if funded, will cover the City of New Albany, and spread the word about the importance of buying locally first. For the first time that I am aware of, New Albany actually has a volunteer-based organization that has been built from the ground up, not the top down. That alone ensures success.
The energy is there, the planning has been done, the volunteer board is in place and it already has a potential membership base waiting to pay dues, once they know it has a chance to succeed.
The first thing someone is going to say is, don’t we have enough nonprofits in this town? The second question will be: Shouldn’t this organization or that one already be doing this? To the first question I’d respond that a viable community can always support a growing nonprofit sector. In fact, such growth is a key sign to the outside of a fit and vital community. A successful community is one that learns to work with and lean on its nonprofit community; especially in tough economic times. A business looking to relocate into New Albany will take such growth into consideration when it comes to making a location decision.
To the second question, I respond, “All things evolve.” Right now, just as the downtown has evolved from empty and vacant spaces to a vibrant and growing district, the nonprofit community is doing the same. Organizations that can’t are being replaced by ones that can. Those organizations need to be supported. Sometimes we need to forget the old ties that bind and recognize that things do change. We need to support those new things, while finding ways to keep the energy of the old and transferring it to the new. While that can be painful, sometimes what is painful is necessary.
New Albany First will be a communitywide organization. It will be THE Buy Independent, Buy Local program for New Albany.
When the time soon comes, both local independent and corporately owned businesses in this town should give serious consideration to how they can support the goals and mission of this new important organization.
Mike Ladd is executive director of the Urban Enterprise Zone Association