Economist points to local business

Charlie Unkefer
Economist and author Michael Shuman speaking at Sons of Italy Hall in Weed on Oct. 6

With economic uncertainty looming on both the national and regional horizons, economist and author Michael Shuman presented his “New Tools for Local Economic Development” workshop to a capacity crowd at Sons of Italy Hall in Weed on Oct. 6.

Shuman, author of “Going Local: Creating Self-Reliant Communities in a Global Age” and “The Small-Mart Revolution: How Local Businesses are Beating the Global Competition,” spoke on the importance of developing a strong local business economy.

He outlined the advantages of creating a strong small business economy as an alternative to an economy dominated by big business interests. He identified specific strategies that would allow this model of growth to occur, generating discussion around the specific needs of Siskiyou County communities. 

Speaking with clarity, humor, and optimism, Shuman  outlined why the current economic downturn stands as a reminder that the global model of commerce proves fallible.  He noted that, while grim, it provides a unique opportunity for small businesses to emerge and compete. However, he made it clear that he was not in Weed to “throw spitballs” at big business but instead to offer solutions to help communities.

Many Siskiyou County business and government leaders, as well others drawn to Shuman’s “local” message, attended the workshop, which was sponsored by the Jefferson Economic Development Institute, College of the Siskiyous, the California Small Business Development Center, Workforce Connection, and the Siskiyou County Economic Development Council.

Shuman traveled to Weed from his home in Washington DC to present his six-hour workshop, a presentation that he gives to communities throughout the country and abroad.

Participants enjoyed early morning coffee, pastries, and an opportunity to mingle before the presentation began and were later treated to a lunch catered by the Silver Spoon. The afternoon portion allowed those present the opportunity to break into small groups and discuss the issues at hand.

The workshop addressed many of the myths surrounding small businesses. At one point, Shuman humorously compared the current economic landscape to the classic short film Bambi vs. Godzilla, likening the small business to Bambi, who is quickly crushed by the giant gorilla.

The prevailing perception of the small business as “quaint” and the “backwater of the old economy” is false, asserted Shuman, reminding those in attendance that small businesses still constitute roughly half of the market, especially in regions like Siskiyou County where they hold a distinct advantage.

“How many of you get your massages over the internet?” he asked, referring to the fact that many businesses are inherently local such as those in the service sector.   

Shuman noted too that income generated by local businesses is more likely to stay in the community and have, what he deems, a “multiplier” effect.  Large businesses cause “leaks,” he continued, leaving less capital in the home community.

Shuman stressed that small businesses are less likely to relocate, foster connection and “quality of life” within the community, and leave less of a carbon footprint. 

He said one common vision held by many is: “There is no alternative” (what he calls the “TINA” attitude). This is a perspective that suggests that the “big business” model is the only option, whether desirable or not, and that it is best to court those industries in order to survive. This practice, Shuman reminded the audience, has its negative consequences, one being the taxpayer subsidies offered as enticements and another being the amount of capital “leaked” out of the community.

Among those present was Michael Noda of Siskiyou County Human Services.  When asked what drew him to the conference, Noda said, “We have a huge workforce that we would like to mobilize,” indicating that he supports programs for economic development that will help to put people to work in stable jobs that allow “quality of life.” 

Jeff Cummings, Dean of Career and Technical Education at COS, another event sponsor, stated that Shuman’s message “provides a different perspective... A presentation like this may not always give immediate results, but it plants a seed.”

Other participants included Grace Bennett, a contender for the District 4 County Supervisor’s seat. Bennett said she read Shuman’s book “Small Mart” and felt many of Shuman’s suggestions were good.  She noted, in particular, that the tax and permit fee burden placed on small business owners is disproportionately unfair and discourages local growth.  She would like to see provisions made that would encourage local business development. 

The event was part of the “Seeds of Opportunity Speakers Series,” designed to promote positive economic growth and stability in Siskiyou County communities.

The series is scheduled to continue.

For more information contact JEDI at