For 30 years, Kimber Lanning was a small business owner in Arizona. Now, she’s the founder and Executive Director of both Local First Arizona and the Local First Arizona Foundation and creating some serious change for all things local.
Local First Arizona is a nonprofit organization dedicated to celebrating, supporting, and promoting independent, locally owned businesses.
Can you tell us a little about what you do with Local First Arizona?
I am the founder and Executive Director of the Local First Arizona Foundation and also the founder of Local First Arizona and we are an organization working to build a stronger, more inclusive Arizona economy.
As far as that endeavor, how has it blossomed over the last few years?
I started out as a small business owner myself so for 30 years I owned a music store and, in that store, I kept watching our brightest young people leave Arizona and go and do great things in someone else’s state, and I started to be a little bothered by that. So I would ask them, “Why aren’t you staying here?” They would say this place has no culture and has no soul, and I was mystified by that because this place has so much culture and so much soul!
I really wanted to explore what connects people to a place and find out what it would take to get them to stay here and build their lives and their families here. So I started Local First Arizona in 2003 because I believed that local business plays a key role in how people feel about their place.
What did you do with Local First Arizona to promote that connection to the community?
I’d say over the last 15 years we have been able to build an enormous amount of hometown pride. We became a voice for Arizona; we built an army of people advocating for Arizona. There is tons of opportunity here so you better roll up your sleeves and get on it!
I also think that we made going local fun and easy. As people begin to connect with local business, it changes their attitude about this place. So, whether it’s our Small Wonders Map which shows local restaurants in retail or it’s the Devour Culinary Festival, you can gain some pride in all the amazing restaurants we have. We do bar crawls, we’re partnering with the wineries and breweries– you name it! We’re making it easier for people to see and identify the local business, accept them, and connect with them.
You touched on restaurants that have come here. Has that impacted your work at all? Has Local First helped provide support for those restaurants to thrive?
I do think we played a key role in that. When we built the Devour Culinary Classic, it’s the only culinary festival where it’s exclusive for local businesses. We shine the spotlight on Arizona chefs- we do have world-renowned chefs that are local. We also do the Seven Chefs Dinner, a shared environment to meet our rockstar chefs and get people excited about a new summer menu coming out. It builds awareness too, about the farm-to-table movement and understanding what’s local and fresh.
Has it been hard to expand the viewpoint of farm-to-table in Arizona?
The Local First Arizona Foundation has three key areas that we’re focused on. One of them is food and agriculture. The work that we’re doing strengthens farmers by giving them a platform to get to market and connect. Arizona is a huge agriculture state, when we talk about the old Cs several of them are agriculture-related. We also work in rural community development and we work diligently to build more self-reliance in those communities and help them find ways to strengthen their own economy from within. Finally, we run a business accelerator program that is for underserved community members so they can be better entrepreneurs, a six-month program completely taught in Spanish.
Where do you think Local First has fit into Arizona’s story over the years?
Now, when the media has a story about local business, they call us to weigh in. Building that hometown pride is just so important – when people don’t love their place it impacts us. We’ve just got a great army of people that are defenders of Arizona, and for that reason, I feel very optimistic.
Which of the new 5 Cs do you feel apply most to Local First?
I feel all of them do! We are building a community. We’re helping small businesses become part of the community and helping people understand their value in shaping the landscape here. We’re a catalyst for change. Over the last 15 years, we have changed the way people think of this place. We are culture – local businesses provide culture; all of our programs are designed around diversity and inclusion. We are commerce – we are the largest local business coalition in North America. Everything we do is directly related to commerce. We want to keep more dollars and more jobs recirculating in Arizona’s economy.
What is your ideal vision for Local First and for Arizona as a whole?
We have a new program called Source AZ that helps business localize their supply chains. We’re expanding into a green business certification program to help businesses learn how to recycle, compost and help our city achieve our 2025 goals. We’re just going to continue to grow, to expand, to add new programs. We want to bring more people under the umbrella – for those people just arriving, we want to make a place that is safe and easy to begin thinking differently about their role in a healthy economy.
Local First Arizona
407 E Roosevelt St
Local First Arizona Foundation
407 E Roosevelt St