Jonathan J. Higuera

Fuerza local

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Kimber Lanning doesn’t speak Spanish – at least, not very well. But, she does speak business. And, she’s been one of Arizona’s strongest advocates when it comes to educating everyone about the benefits of buying from locally-based businesses. The group she started to achieve that goal, Local First Arizona, is now seeking to add more Spanish-speaking business owners to its membership rolls.

The group’s outreach effort is called Fuerza local. So far, it has organized two workshops for Latino business owners, several of whom have been interviewed on Spanish-language radio and in the local press. The early publicity has helped, even though the Fuerza local initiative is only a few months in the making. Through mid-June, the effort led to over 30 new Spanish-speaking members in Local First.

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Carlos Velasco, a business development consultant and a board member of Local First Arizona, has been helping forge connections for Fuerza local among prominent Latino-owned businesses. He says the effort is in a nascent stage, but believes the group’s goal of making members aware of the value of locally-owned businesses will lead to stronger communities, as well as a stronger economy.

“We want to create a consciousness and awareness of the importance of supporting local business, and then create the resources for them to be successful,” said Velasco. “We want them to leverage their ‘localness’ into stronger communities.”

Local First was started by Lanning in 2003, then called Chain Reaction. That movement has grown into a full-fledged nonprofit that has hundreds of members. In 2007, the name was changed to Local First Arizona. In March of this year, the group played a significant role in convincing the Phoenix City Council to change its purchasing policies to give local businesses first shot at city contracts worth up to $50,000.

The city now makes sure those contracts are first offered to locally-owned businesses. By doing so, Phoenix became one of the first municipalities in the state to have a “local first” procurement policy. 

“We want to build a stronger local economy,” said Lanning. “In Arizona, that’s impossible to do without engaging the Spanish-speaking business community.”

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