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Chamber kicks off Buy Local campaign

COVINGTON - The Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce is urging residents to support the local economy.

The Chamber has kicked off the Buy Local campaign, an initiative of its Small Business Committee, to encourage local shopping and give a boost to Newton County retailers and sales tax collections.

The campaign was unveiled Wednesday morning at the Chamber's Newton AM held at DeKalb Technical College.

It's no secret Newton County is losing retail dollars to neighboring Rockdale.

According to data from 2007, published in the 2009 Georgia County Guide, on average, Newton County has annual retail sales of $750 million a year, generating an annual sales tax income of $22 million.

Meanwhile, Rockdale County has a whopping $2 billion in annual retail sales, generating $60 million in sales tax revenue.

The average annual retail sales per household in Newton County was $20,237, versus $61,317 in Rockdale. Newton County has 37,322 households, while Rockdale has 29,101 households.

Also, the median Newton County household income, at $54,896, is lower than in Rockdale, which is $66,749.

The study indicates that Newton County residents are spending at least half of their disposable income outside the county.

It's the Chamber's goal to change that by educating residents on the benefits of local shopping.

First, retailers need to see an improvement in local retail sales before they'll locate here, said Chamber Programs Director Lisa Oglesby. Right now, Newton is losing shoppers primarily to Rockdale and Morgan counties.

"Retailers see that it looks like people are willing to drive, so they're skipping over us," she said.

Chamber President John Boothby said it's a "chicken or egg" situation.

While some people may complain that there aren't enough retail choices in Newton County, it's likely that won't change any time soon if retailers don't see an improvement in local shopping, he said.

"To people who say I don't have choices here, I can't guarantee you will have choices if you buy local, but I can guarantee you if you don't, you won't have choices in the future," Boothby said.

In addition to attracting new retail, State Sen. John Douglas, R-Social Circle, said shopping locally is important to retaining the stores that are already here.

"When Belk left, that should have been a wake-up call. These people are going to go where the money is. If you shop locally, you're going to keep them here," he said.

While it's true that not everything a consumer needs can be bought in Newton County, plenty of things can, like groceries and gas, Oglesby said.

To illustrate her point, Oglesby brought along an outfit and accessories she recently purchased at Newton County stores - proof, she said, that there are places for women to shop in Newton County.

Her purchases included an $82 jacket and $27 pants from Brendale's, a Brighton purse from Mayfield Hardware on sale for $128, a watch from Brendale's for $24, and shoes from New Shoez for $107, - a total of $368 for the outfit.

About 45 percent of every dollar spent locally goes back to the community, paying for services and paying residents' wages, she said.

Residents who are concerned about services being cut or employee layoffs and furloughs can help boost county revenues by spending money in their own backyard, she said.

The Buy Local campaign is an attempt to spread that message throughout the county. Brochures listing the benefits of local shopping will soon be on display around town and possibly mailed to residents. Buy Local is also being promoted on local public access channels and YouTube. Local officials have signed a proclamation declaring September Buy Local Month. The campaign also has a Web site, www.buylocalnewton.com.

"We're trying to really permeate the community in a lot of different ways to get the word out on buying locally," said Gena McLendon, chairman of the Small Business Committee.

Meanwhile, government and Chamber officials said they are working to draw retailers to Newton.

Newton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Kathy Morgan said an economic development committee is meeting monthly to discuss retention and attraction of businesses.

Covington Mayor Kim Carter said an economic development study conducted in 2009 addressed problems and solutions, and the city is also in the midst of another study being conducted through the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia.

But what's here now is worth supporting, too, said Porterdale Mayor Bobby Hamby, who operated a small business on the Square for 14 years.

Hamby said the notion that mom and pop businesses are higher priced just isn't true, adding that they often offer items cheaper than national retailers, and at a higher quality.

"You find out there's a lot more choice in what you buy in mom and pop stores than with national retailers," he said.