Shop local - it's more than just groceries - Denny Scott editorial
Recently Huron County Council decided that just over a three per cent difference in prices wasn’t worth keeping money here at home and instead voted to send it to a national company whose closest office is over an hour away by car.
As will be outlined in a story in this week’s issue of The Citizen by Editor Shawn Loughlin, Huron County Council went with Cargill Salt to provide a de-icing alternative for road maintenance in the winter. Cargill is headquartered in Wayzata, Minnesota and its closest local plant is in St. Clair, Michigan, 160 kilometres away from Huron County. Cargill’s bid was just over three per cent lower than Compass Minerals’ bid. While Compass Minerals, which bought Sifto Salt in Goderich, is headquartered in Kansas, there are two Compass Minerals projects in Goderich: the well-known salt mine under Lake Huron and the mechanical evaporator plant.
So for $15,000 (a drop in the bucket when compared to the final price of $409,697.97), Huron County Council decided that over $400,000 should be sent out of the area.
It’s not that council did anything wrong by doing that: there’s no whistle-blowing here. As a matter of fact, council followed its own rules to the letter, going with the lowest bidder. However that leaves locals paying taxes that are then funneled directly out of the community.
I don’t cover Huron County Council often, but I know from Shawn’s reports that this issue comes up regularly. Councillors want to go with a local bidder if it's at all comparable to the lowest bid, but often a staff member or councillor will refer the decision back to the county’s procurement policy, saying council should be following its own rules.
So, like that one dead light bulb you keep saying you're going to get to, council members continue to say something should be changed but then they won’t do anything about it.
It wouldn’t be difficult: all that’s needed is a clause that says a local bidder would be given an allowance of a certain percentage if they aren’t the lowest bidder, and then tax dollars are being spent in the area and supporting local residents.
There are some staff members or councillors who will argue that that will slowly discourage other firms from bidding and they’re right, it probably will. However if those out-of-town firms really want the business and really want to try and take it from firms local to the municipalities seeking the bids, they’ll build a bit of a cushion into their bid to make sure they have the lowest one. At that point, council can at least say there is a policy in place to support local companies.
The “shop local” movement got a real shot in the arm with the pandemic as everyone wanted to stay as close to home as possible and buy from retailers they know and trust. While the pandemic has been a death knell for some businesses, it was a boon for others.
The pandemic has led to people looking for jobs locally, while some businesses still haven’t been able to open their doors due to COVID-19. That’s why now, more than ever, municipalities and counties should be looking to do everything they can to support their local industry and firms, which in turn will allow those firms to hire more locals.
It seems to be the one thing that’s oft-overlooked when it comes to municipalities and councils looking to foster economic development: it’s not enough to have programs to help local businesses, we also need to put a priority on spending dollars locally before considering anywhere else.
As Ashfield-Colborne-Wawanosh Mayor and Warden candidate Glen McNeil said, the vast majority of people would likely be understanding if an allowance was made to keep tax dollars local when municipal and county governments need to fund projects and services.
Heck, I live in the ward with the second-highest taxes in the county and even I think that, for approximately 3.5 per cent, I’d have preferred that money to go to a local business or a firm with local representation, even if not all the work would have been done here.
Whether it’s de-icing alternatives, road work, fleet additions or repairs or even restocking the TP in the washroom, local governments need to find a local supplier because, if this time in isolation and physical distancing has taught us anything, it’s that we couldn’t have gotten through without our local businesses.
It has also taught us the importance of the government investing in its people. Imagine now, however, if that help came in the form of spending locally.
So Huron County Council, as well as all the other local councils that haven’t yet tackled this issue: change your rules to recognize the importance of spending locally when it comes to fulfilling bids, tenders and contracts. It’s the best possible way to foster economic development in the community.