Why We Belong to Dane Buy Local

What COVID-19 Tells Us About Building A Sustainable Local Economy

Marian Halls discussing conteing

Doing Work That Means Something

When I joined Dirigible as the team’s copywriter last year, I distinctly remember Kindra sitting everyone down during my onboarding meeting and explaining how she and Sam started Dirigible Studio because they wanted to work with clients that were doing something important, whose mission we believed in. The businesses we work with are not just clients to us, she said—we’ve chosen to work with them because what we do for them is meaningful and important. Our work for one client has helped them pay their mortgage and rise to the middle class. For others, it has allowed their dream project to become a viable reality in the marketplace.

As I began writing for these clients, I quickly learned how much I loved the process of telling their stories. Spending the day helping clients communicate effectively to their customers—it’s always satisfying work. But it was even more satisfying when I would see signposts of these same clients’ businesses as I drove home from work—passing one of Steve Brown Apartments’ buildings, watching a TDS Custom Construction van pulling out from the driveway of a home they were remodeling, picking up a gift or a prescription at Forward Pharmacy. Joining Dirigible has given me a sense of greater connection with the place I’ve been living.

For these and other clients, Dirigible has been there as they’ve weathered challenges or crises in their businesses or communities; and now we’re helping facilitate the transition to pandemic-ready online businesses. Many of our clients know each other, and either work with each other now or have done so in the past—Vanessa Tortolano from NessAlla performs improv with Monkey Business Institute; YesLMS’s Linda Hedenblad also used to perform with MBI. The Glass Nickel, where MBI performs each week, serves NessAlla’s kombucha, and so there are many different ways these businesses rely on each other to keep offering the goods and services that they do. In other words, Dirigible’s client base is not just a bunch of self-sufficient business “islands”—they are an ecosystem.

Dane Buy Local: Cultivating A Resilient Madison

Creating the conditions for that kind of ecosystem to thrive is the core vision behind Dane Buy Local. Now more than ever, cultivating a strong local economy is key to surviving and thriving, and that’s why Dirigible Studio is proud to be a Dane Buy Local member.

Dane Buy Local has been around since 2004. Since its humble beginnings as a volunteer-run initiative, Dane Buy Local has grown to one of the largest city/county-wide Buy Local organizations in the United States. That says a lot, we feel, about the kind of community that Madison has cultivated over the years—strong, locally based values, a sense of connectedness, and our own unique Madison character.

Since the start of the pandemic, Dane Buy Local has been involved in administering a Dane County Small Business Pandemic Support Grant Program, which provides aid for small businesses experiencing financial difficulties as a result of the COVID-19 public health crisis. Through this grant program, companies can apply for funding to help stay afloat and retain employees. They have also moved their meetings online, which has turned shelter-in-place orders into an opportunity for more connection, rather than a slow drift into isolation—and we think that’s great news.

At the heart of Dane Buy Local’s vision is helping the local community understand the advantages of purchasing from locally-owned, independent businesses instead of from corporate chains. Those “big box” businesses may seem cheaper on the front end, but they end up costing the community more in the long run.

According to the American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA), every dollar spent at an independent business returns three times more money to the local economy than one dollar spent at a chain. Investing in the local economy can also result in a lower tax burden and ensures that more tax dollars are invested back in the community where they originate.

Even more importantly, buying local builds a more sustainable, planet-friendly world. Independent, community-serving businesses typically consume less land, carry more locally-sourced products, are located closer to residents, and create less traffic and air pollution.

The importance of sustainability and self-reliance has become more evident in recent weeks, as the COVID-19 public health crisis has led to concerns and feelings of uncertainty around everything from worker health and safety to the strength of our food supply chains. The more we invest those dollars in businesses within our own communities, the more reassurance we have that our supply chains are reliable and our workers’ health is a priority—and the more assured we can be that we’ll be able to hold each other up when things get challenging.

Dirigible Family Photo

Putting Our Money Where Our Mouth is

For a marketing/web design firm, the value of keeping it local may seem less evident at first glance. Sure, we’re not a brick-and-mortar store, and you could argue that a lot of our work could be done remotely, if need be. But building a vibrant local economy is just as critical for a company like ours. Our clients are local—so local that when a power substation goes out they all lose power at the same time. So there are very tangible, material reasons why we’re invested in building a strong, resilient local economy.

Cultivating the unique character of the Madison area is a core value for many clients, and many of them are themselves members of Dane Buy Local. TDS Custom Construction, for instance, has long been a sponsor of Madison’s many summer festivals, and a supporter of the Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center and the Goodman Community Center. For many of our clients, the local economy is how they do business—the customers they serve are local, and the services they rely on are local, too. We want to be in a position to speak convincingly to their interests and concerns.

At Dirigible Studio, we believe in local first and as a result of COVID-19, have ended our reliance on Amazon for office supplies and furniture. We feel that Amazon isn’t treating its workers with the respect and safety they deserve. So, we decided it’s time to put our money where our mouth is, and work with companies that have a track record of bringing money back into the local community and supporting the wellbeing of its members, rather than pulling away from those valuable assets.

When local consumers understand these dynamics and start patronizing the businesses in their own communities, the result is that as consumers and community members, we end up building a more self-reliant, resilient economy in our own backyards. Our investment yields what Dane Buy Local describes as a “sustainable, local economy in vibrant communities that residents are proud to call home.”

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