SIERRA VISTA — Small local businesses keep people coming back. Besides the residents of a town or city, it’s the independent entrepreneurs and the services they offer that give a community its personality and vibe.

That was the overall message that local business advocate and guru Kimber Lanning gave to Sierra Vista city officials and business owners on Tuesday morning at the Good Morning Sierra Vista breakfast.

More specifically, Lanning, who launched the non-profit Local First ARIZONA in Phoenix 15 years ago, spoke about how communities must shift their economic priorities in order to become and remain self-reliant. Local First ARIZONA is a non-profit that advocates for a strong local business community and raises public awareness of the economic and cultural benefits provided by strong local economies.

“Small businesses are the engine that make communities work,” Lanning told the room full of breakfast attendees at Cochise College’s student union building.

Lanning said most communities spend their money on attracting new businesses. That’s not a bad thing, But she said Local First ARIZONA focuses more on “business retention and expansion.”

“Hometown pride translates to the economy,” Lanning said.

Small, local businesses are what make up the personality of a city or town, Lanning noted, especially if they offer something no one else has and the owner and employees go the extra mile for their customers. Additionally, when people patronize local businesses, more of the money spent is re-circulated into the local economy.

According to Local First ARIZONA’s website, for every $100 spent at a local business, $43 remains in the local economy. If a consumer spends the same amount at a chain store however, only $13 remains in the local economy.

The organization gives 10 reasons why people should support their local merchants: keep money in the local economy, keep money in your wallet, foster community pride in a unique sense of place, support the community through local businesses, create jobs in your community, advance environmental sustainability, diversify the economy, support healthy communities, enjoy premier customer service and create prosperity for all.

Sierra Vista City Councilwoman Carolyn Umphrey, who owns dog grooming business Pups With Style, attended the breakfast and said she came away with ideas. Umphrey said the city is hoping to develop and revitalize the West End corridor — where 55 percent of Sierra Vista’s commercial vacancies are — so that it becomes attractive to small business owners.

Umphrey said the city is looking at possibly making the west side an entertainment district in order to attract a larger variety of entrepreneurs.

“It’s not just that the small mom and pops (businesses) need us to support them,” Umphrey said. “We (the community) need them too.”

Jennifer Martin, director of the Sierra Vista Area Chamber of Commerce, said that $46 million has been loaned locally to small businesses in Sierra Vista. Martin said she encourages small business owners to reach out not only to Lanning’s organization, but to the Chamber.

“It’s about connections and relationships,” Martin said.

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