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Local First Movement Gains Pivotal Seat at the Traditional Economic Development Table

International Economic Development Council Names LFAZ Director Kimber Lanning Citizen Leader of the Year

Local First Arizona Director Kimber Lanning has been named the recipient of the 2014 Citizen Leadership Award from the International Economic Development Council (IEDC). The annual award recognizes a community leader who has endeavored to further the profession of economic development and has played a key role in economic development in his or her community.

“This award is a milestone in a changing economy, one that is now recognizing the work of Local First Arizona and other Local First initiatives as a viable part of economic development.” said Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton. “Kimber can proudly accept this award on behalf of everyone working to create sustainable, resilient, diverse, and vibrant local economies in their own communities.”

Lanning’s background is entrepreneurial, having owned three arts-related businesses over the past 27 years. Her work in the arts and culture community provided the platform for Lanning to launch Local First Arizona (LFA) in 2003. “I founded Local First Arizona for two reasons,” said Lanning. “First, I saw too many bright young people leaving Arizona for other cities like Austin and Portland. I wanted to inspire others to stay in Phoenix to help build a world class city. Second, I thought the massive subsidies being given to national chain stores were a raw deal for local communities, and I wanted to see Phoenix return to a climate where businesses, particularly retail and restaurants, had to pay their own way.”

Making an impact on the local economy

Lanning’s leadership has transformed Arizona’s local economy in a drastic way. LFA is now the largest locally owned business coalition in North America with over 2,500 business members, large and small. The online business directory she and her team created gets searched uniquely 48,000 times per month on average and they have amassed nearly 70,000 social media followers. She has 13 full-time staff members in offices in Phoenix, Tucson, and Cottonwood working tirelessly to help citizens, business leaders and policy makers to understand the connections between local ownership and widespread prosperity. It is clear that the message is being heard, as the local business community reported sales were up 8.1% in 2013, which is significantly higher than the national average retail sales (local and national chains combined) of 4.2%.

“The movement to diversify our economy isn’t about baristas, shop keepers, or servers,” Lanning explains, “but about the ecosystem of businesses that support independent ownership. Accountants, graphic designers, web developers, attorneys–they all prosper when diverse, independently owned Arizona businesses are thriving. That ecosystem is lost when local business ownership is scarce.”

Using “sense of place” as a tool for economic development

Lanning is quick to site a Knight Foundation study which recently showed “connection to place” as the single-most leading indicator in places that have prosperity. “We need to be sure that people living here feel connected to this place, and locally owned businesses play an important role in that connection. Communities with a strong sense of place are highly successful in attracting the very kinds of high tech workers that our high level economic development teams seek to bring here to Arizona.

“Through Local First Arizona, Kimber continues to create a sense of pride within our communities and showcase the vibrant cities in our region, which helps our organization in attracting businesses to the region,” said Barry Broome, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council. “It comes as no surprise to see an outstanding community leader from Arizona selected as the IEDC Citizen Leader of the Year.”

Policy and programatic successes

As Director of Local First Arizona, Lanning has overseen many policy changes that have fostered local economic development. She has worked on streamlining the adaptive reuse program at the City of Phoenix, which has enabled more businesses to open up in older building stock that only just recently blighted the city. This policy work has been pivotal in jumpstarting downtown Phoenix’s revitalization and recently landed Lanning the Distinguished Citizen Planner Award from the Arizona Chapter of the American Planning Association last year.

Additionally, Lanning and her team have worked diligently on government procurement policies that would enable more Arizona companies to compete, keeping more dollars and jobs flowing through the local economy. Local First Arizona has also seen many programmatic successes that have directly contributed to economic development. LFA was the first local business organization in the country to implement a Spanish language initiative, called Fuerza Local, a business accelerator program which works to encourage low-income Latinos to think entrepreneurially to create a pathway to prosperity for themselves and their families.

Furthermore, LFA’s efforts extended far beyond Arizona’s urban areas when LFA acquired the Arizona Rural Development Council (AZRDC) in May of 2013. Today, Lanning regularly travels across the state to work with rural stakeholders to help find creative solutions for building resilient and diverse economies for the state that include increasing in-state tourism. She also leads the annual Rural Policy Forum, a gathering of rural economic development professionals, nonprofits, community leaders, business owners, and stakeholders who are interested in sustaining rural communities.

Taking a broad approach towards economic development

“The successes of Local First Arizona over the last decade have underscored the broad range of strategies that Arizona needs to pursue for sustainable economic development,” said Lanning. “Through supporting entrepreneurs and locally owned enterprises—both large and small—we are maximizing the ecosystem of a healthy economy that builds widespread prosperity and supports more jobs. Local First Arizona is creating healthy local economies across the state that will in turn draw further economic development opportunities.”

Lanning emphasizes that a healthy Arizona economy needs to be diverse, resilient, and thriving. “To get there,” she says, “We need to invest in our own talent and develop policies that enable our business community to thrive.”

Lanning will accept the Citizen Leadership Award at the IEDC Annual Conference in Fort Worth, Texas, on Monday, October 21. Lanning is the second from Arizona to be recognized with the IEDC Citizen Leadership Award. Last year’s award recipient was Sharon Harper of Phoenix, a founding board member of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council and co-founder of the real estate firm Plaza Companies.