How to help the local economy in Camden and Southwest Arkansas: Opinion

Spending is something we do every day to get the things we need and want. Food is a requirement for survival and is usually purchased locally - as is gasoline. But what about everything else? Are we hurting our own community by purchasing from far away companies in other regions? Local ArkLaTex retail experts say the answer is "yes."

Today, many of us go straight to the web to purchase any number of products available in our own area - such as clothing, shoes, jewelry and more. Increasingly, we are also shopping from distant places for more substantial purchases too - like televisions, computers and phones - even though we may have competitive prices and local service right here in our area or in the broader Southwest Arkansas region.

Many of us have hobbies and interests like fishing, hunting, sewing and gaming which utilize specific gear, but Southwest Arkansas is filled with great places to shop for these items. Yet we still go online or shop from random catalog merchants with warehouses a thousand miles away or more. While preparing for this article, one of our local ArkLaTex News reporters confessed to buying his new car from a distant Ford dealership on eBay - yes, eBay! After the delivery cost and lack of local service, he realized his big mistake. And we won't let him forget it.

Fortunately, we have some wonderful businesses here in Camden, Southwest Arkansas and in the surrounding ArkLaTex region. These are places where the staff are friendly and seem to genuinely like being in their workplace. Some of the store team even know us by name, which adds to the coziness of the local experience.

A few of these places can claim numerous generations of family proprietorship, weathering bouts of struggle and prosperity - finding a balance in order to continue operation. By investing their time and money here in Southwest Arkansas, these stores and service businesses have been of great benefit to our local economy and have added to a rich retailing history, right here at home.

It is a bit of a shame that there are people who have never heard about these locally owned places of business. When these local gift shops, Mom and Pop stores, boutiques and eateries are bypassed in favor of a chain or national business, our area suffers. The funds spent elsewhere end up being funneled into corporate headquarters located in other states - and in some cases other countries.

Every time we bypass a local business in favor of internet shopping or by visiting a giant big-box mega-store, less money is being spent in ventures owned here in our area. This has a trickle-down effect, which leads to a dwindling variety of available goods and a decrease in regional job diversity.

So let's help encourage friends, neighbors and our own families to make a conscious effort to visit and make purchases from our nearby shops and family run operations in Camden and Southwest Arkansas. These establishments cannot survive without us, and local managers and business owners are often outwardly appreciative of our patronage.

There are other benefits, too. With local establishments, we have the opportunity to see, touch, examine and in some cases, taste the goods being offered in order to determine if those items may be right for us. In addition, there is a distinct pride in communities that have great shops and thriving businesses. It adds a strong "pulse" to the community, and increasing numbers of local customers will often mean that business owners decide to create more jobs and improve their businesses.

The key to this power is in our wallets and pocketbooks. If we want more local businesses, it is up to us to support the ones we have and encourage new people to keep the entrepreneurial spirit alive in Camden and Ouachita County.