Why buy local? The Louisville Independent Business Alliance (LIBA) says it’s to “keep things weird.” Yes, you read that right. Inspired (and authorized!) by the Austin, Texas, buy local movement, LIBA promotes this slogan because locally owned businesses are one-of-a-kind. They are at the core of a place’s character. From grocery stores to entertainment venues, non-profits to restaurants, and everything in between, LIBA’s 850 members run the gamut of what it looks like to keep Louisville weird. And each plays a vital role in what people experience when they travel or choose to live there.

Through awareness campaigns that inform citizens, group branding and promotion projects, and relationship building with local government, LIBA works with members to preserve the unique community character of Metro Louisville.

The organization also emphasizes that thinking local first is the best way to “keep your money close to home.” A study of Louisville-area businesses shows that for every $100 spent at a locally-owned, independent business, $55 is reinvested locally. In contrast, only $14 is reinvested when that same money is spent at a national chain. The results are even stronger for restaurants.

Based on figures from the 2007 Economic Census of Jefferson County, a market shift of just 10% from chains to independents would retain an additional $416 million in the regional economy every year. To that end, LIBA developed a 5-year strategic plan in 2017 titled Thriving Locally.

LIBA’s strategic plan “is one of the more important things we’ve done over the years.”

-Jennifer Rubenstein, Director, LIBA

The tightly focused, six-page document contains goals centered around consumers, membership engagement, advocacy, and infrastructure, with aims ranging from increasing LIBA’s annual budget to building an army of advocates through the organization’s “Buy Local Besties” program. Created during an annual retreat, the plan has guided LIBA over the last several years, though the pandemic certainly altered some efforts.

Director Jennifer Rubenstein, and her team of two part-time staff, have referred back to the strategic plan often to measure and assess, identify elements that may not have been realistic, and reground themselves when going off track. They’re now looking ahead toward the next set of loftier goals, but the plan likely won’t be updated until 2023.

In the meantime, LIBA stays focused on their events, a staple of many independent business alliances. Their events include a Buy Local Fair, which is always the biggest, as well as the Louisville Local Business Expo, which balances things out with a business-to-business focus. LIBA’s events make up the second largest portion of their income after membership.

“Because we have gathered members and members and more members, we can function in a lot of ways like a chamber and build community within our membership.”

-Jennifer Rubenstein, Director, LIBA

Through LIBA, members can access educational resources to enhance their business practices in addition to networking opportunities, like LIBA’s monthly member events. These are held at different times and locations around town to make attendance easy. Engaging all types of businesses and owners is critical to LIBA, and the organization prioritizes diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in everything they do.

They’ve cultivated strong partnerships with the Louisville Urban League and other locally based BIPOC entrepreneurship groups to ensure this. Annually, LIBA identifies a DEI focus and benchmarks each month. Their ability to bring many voices together has been evident during the 2022 mayoral race, during which they hosted a debate so candidates could respond directly to questions from independent business owners.

Looking toward the future, LIBA has also received support from other experienced organizations in submitting several grant applications. It’s not something the business alliance has historically had the skills or bandwidth to pursue, so Rubenstein and her team are looking forward to the outcomes.

She said it’s been incredibly valuable to connect with members of the American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA) and other IBAs to “talk shop” and hear the strategies people are using all around the country. Those connections have offered many meaningful learning moments, a gift she hopes to pay forward.

Our “Hello! We Are AMIBA” series gathers stories, best practices, strengths, challenges, and equity initiatives from AMIBA Members and Partners. As an alliance, we are AMIBA! Learn more about the American Independent Business Alliance.

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