LocalStart.Org are passionate about Kansas City small business. They’ve created an initiative focused on local farming, branding and manufacturing.
When the going gets tough, some people run and hide. Others fight back. Richard Shipley definitely fits in the second camp.
Shipley lost his first job out of college, which he describes as “my entry-level college job that was supposed to be the gateway to a better life,” because of the economic downturn.
“One of my friends told me I was ‘itching for a fight,’” Shipley recalls. “I wanted to get into the energy crisis. Instead, I set up an organization that could do something about the recession. Where do you start? You start local. It grew organically from that.”
He interpreted “starting local” quite literally. Shipley, 30, is now founder/CEO of LocalStart.org, a nonprofit grass-roots movement to help people find local products and businesses in the Kansas City area marketplace.
“There was a statistic in Entrepreneur a few months ago that $68 of every $100 that’s spent locally stays local,” Shipley says. “That $68 is taking another trip around the local economy, which will put more food on more tables. In general, the whole region benefits from it. If you choose to buy from a local business, they’re going to turn around and create more jobs, which will benefit the local economy.”
LocalStart.org began in the fall of 2011. “We’ve operated as an organization conducting research projects and exploratory missions,” Shipley says. “Four months ago, we attended the national day of ‘civic hacking.’”
According to Wikipedia, “hacking” in computers and technology is defined as “heavy modification of the software or hardware of one’s own computer system.” In other words, it’s a term that can be used to describe trying to improve a process.
“My board and I talked on our way back and decided that this was where we could make the most impact,” Shipley continues. “We wanted to provide a platform for local businesses to make an impact in the marketplace. Before I had gone to the event, I had drawn up a 10-year plan for where the organization could go. One of the parts of the plan was a graphic for all products that were made locally. I didn’t think we would be able to do anything for another year because I didn’t think we had the resources or the time.”
One of the organizers asked Shipley if he needed anything, and he told him that they needed a graphic that all companies could use to help people find them in the marketplace. Katie Greer, a local graphic designer, stepped up.
“I’m madly in love with Kansas City,” Greer says. “Everything I do, everything I am passionate about, comes from my ‘inner hippy.’ I believe in sustainability, which requires the reconciliation of environmental, social equity and economic demands. I believe in creating communities that support and nurture each other. I want to buy from my friends and neighbors. In order for that to happen, I have to know where goods come from.”
Greer’s belief in consumers having the right to make informed decisions for themselves is what attracted her to LocalStart. “I want to support my local economy,” she says. “I do not want to purchase items produced on the other side of the globe. I want the ability to make informed and intentional choices.”
Working for the nonprofit fosters in Greer a sense of civic pride. “There is no place I would rather live than Kansas City,” she says. “I think Kansas City needs people like me who are willing to fight to make it better. Other cities are a bit more progressive when it comes to being environmentally friendly, which is why I want to be here. I want to help push things in the right direction. I want to make a difference.”
Shipley defines local as being from the Kansas City region. “We have set a 60-mile radius,” he explains. “If a business is set up outside that one-hour drive from Kansas City, but they consider Kansas City their home, they’re welcome in our program. That’s why we say “Kansas City without a state.””
This is a sound decision considering members of LocalStart could come from either the Missouri side or from the Kansas side. “We’re trying to step away from the border war,” Shipley admits. “I understand how it happened and why it happened. But as far as we’re concerned, it’s not helpful. If you’re in another country and someone asks you where you’re from, and you say ‘Kansas City,’ then you’re welcome in our program.”
Shipley says LocalStart.org is different from many of the other “movements” to support local businesses. “We are taking it beyond the produce aisle and beyond conversation,” he says. “Most of the efforts in the past have mostly been talking about buying local. We’re interested in not only talking about why it’s important, but also in giving people the tools to do that.
“One of things that is growing out of our organization is putting the power into people’s hands,” he continues. “When they’re out in the marketplace, they can use a phone app for not only the stores where they shop, but [also] the products they buy.
“The other thing that sets us apart from what’s been done in the past is that they’ve always been side projects,” Shipley adds. “They’re done by people who run other businesses or civic projects. We’re an organization that’s driven only by this. This isn’t something that’s going to get dropped.
Companies who are participating members of the Made In KC initiative by Local Start:
Thou Mayest Coffee | Indigo Wild | S.D. Strong Distilling | Vita Craft | Good Spirits Distilling | H.M.S. Beagle | Hugo Tea Company | Sifers VALOMILK Candy Co. | Great Gran’s Pickle Company | WHITNEYMANNEY | Heirloom Stitches | Green Faery Central | HH Chocolates | Tall Grass Toffee | Creative Candles | Vrbicycles | Tyler Kingston Wood Co. | CinemaKC | KC Spectacles Co. | Fine Foods of America Inc. | White Birch Designs | Deja Vivir Salsa | imagineUtopia | Maker Village KC | Big Vision Media Group | BNIM Architects | High Plains Distillery | Mattinée Films | Dumb Kid Designs/Susanne Brink | Sauce Optional | Red-Headed Philosopher Coffee | FireBug BBQ | Kansas City Cupcake Co. | Midwest Music Foundation | Rawls-Riley Creations | KC Classic Gourmet Foods | Our Sassy Pantry