Blog: Ingrid Ault

Is it worth paying a 6% sales tax to keep jobs in Michigan and build vibrant downtowns? Ingrid Ault, executive director of Think Local First, writes a series on how to not just talk local, but how to live local.

Local Procurement Policies are Good for Our Community!

This is part two of a three-part series of actions that you can take to advocate for the local movement.

As the executive director of Think Local First, I make it my business to know our members' business. Every day I have conversations with our membership about issues they face daily. One of the top concerns is access to and awarding of government and university contracts. Over the past four years I have been collecting stories from businesses that had contracts they bid on awarded to companies outside our county when they provided a bid at the same price or lower.

Why is this happening?
When I have questioned this, I have been met with various answers including, 'No one told me it was important'. Since then I have been talking to officials to make sure they are considering this factor when deciding whom to award a contract to. This began a discussion about implementing a local procurement policy at our city, county, and state levels.

What is the current status?
The state has a "buy Michigan first" policy introduced by Gov. Granholm in 2009. She asked universities and everyone else to do the same declaring "Ford to Faygo" and "Bell's Beer to Blueberries" as the path to follow. Sounds good, doesn't it? Unfortunately, all a business needs is a P.O. box located in the state of Michigan to be considered a state preferred vendor. For this to have teeth, we need a vetting system that goes deeper into how "local" is defined.

Ten days later, Washtenaw County discussed implementing a countywide policy at the April 2009 commissioners' working session when they discussed acting on Gov. Granholm's mandate. Then Commissioner Jeff Irwin (now state representative for District 53) clarified on Arbor Update:

"The current policy advantages local vendors in two ways:?
1) When other factors (price and quality) are the same or nearly the same, our policy states that purchasing is to choose the local vendor.
2) We require that contractors on larger projects, such as new building or major renovations, sign our CUB agreement (Construction Unity Board). This ensures that these contractors pay a living wage and contribute to union health care funds."

But at the city level, we are unaware of any local purchasing policies within Washtenaw County.

What is government's role?
I often hear that government can't play a role in economic development. This is simply wrong. The most immediate way is to keep the taxpayer dollars right here in our community. Investing in the public that funds the government to provide services is common sense. For every dollar that stays in our community, it recirculates two and a half times more. Investing in local businesses is an investment in our community.

Behind the Pack
As a county and state that makes bold statements, we do a poor job of providing clear, concise guidelines for purchasing departments to follow. Saying we would like them to consider following a loosely defined concept is not the same as defining how they are required to follow a policy.

Over the past year there have been many communities enacting local procurement policies at all government levels with bi-partisan support. Texas has had a policy in place for 17 years. Arizona has studied exactly how a policy would affect their state in job growth by enacting such a policy. And communities from Santa Cruz, Calif. to Grand Rapids, Mich. have implemented policies in the last month.

Time to Take Action!
We believe it is time that our state, county, and cities get on board and take a real stand on this issue. The evidence speaks for itself. Now is the time. There are policies that have been in place for decades that have withstood litigation from big business that work hard to lobby against such common sense policies. We have the power to create economic revenue and jobs right here in our community. But to make this happen our community leaders need to know that you support these types of policies. They need to hear from you. They need to know that you support this. They need to know that you will support those that understand why this is important to our community. Please let your voice be heard. Contact the elected officials that represent you now.