MOUNT VERNON — As of April 24, a “Buy American” resolution pushed by United Steelworkers members and the Alliance for American Manufacturing has passed in 362 states and municipalities across the nation. But area merchants say buying local is an even better idea.
“That is the first thing we talk about when we get together, is why don’t people buy local,” said Jeff Ulrey, owner of Strang Glass. “Why don’t they? Because everybody’s looking for the cheapest price. I’m looking for the cheapest price, too, but I will pay more to buy here.
“I buy my car here, I buy my appliances here in town, I read the Mount Vernon News,” he continued.
Strang said changes in the industry have made it more difficult for customers to have repair work done locally.
“The insurance companies have dominated the market,” he said. “They tell you where you have to have the repairs done. They never used to do that.”
When jobs are sent out of town, neither the city nor the county gets anything, he said.
“There’s probably about $500,000 to $600,000 every year that is leaving Knox County that shouldn’t be leaving,” he said. “It’s a total trickle-down effect. My tax money goes right back into the community. All of my employees are local, and they’re paying taxes here, too.
“I pay taxes here, my family’s paid taxes for 130 years. I support this community, my father did, my grandfather did. But with my margins down, I can’t give as much as I have before.”
Strang said although he has not had to lay off any employees, the hours of some have been cut back.
Municipalities and government entities have some leeway in whether they use local businesses, but not always. For example, of 13 subcontractors working on the Gay Street improvement project, five are local. The contractor for the project, Terra Valley Excavating, is based in Bellville.
According to Dave Glass, safety-service director for Mount Vernon, anything that has a price tag greater than $25,000 has to go through a bid process. The lowest bidder is awarded the contract.
“There is an opportunity to disqualify the lowest bid if they’re not qualified, but you have to make a pretty good case for it,” said Glass.
“We do use local when we can,” he said, citing as examples the local companies which do landscaping and mowing for the city.
Projects at the Mid Ohio Transit Authority which will be funded by the Obama administration’s federal stimulus money may bring business to local merchants.
John Madden, operations manager for MOTA, said three bids will be required for each project. MOTA is in the process of taking bids for the projects, which include renovating the facility — new signage, tile and carpet — and new cameras for the security system.
“We turn those bids into the Ohio Department of Transportation, which will review the paperwork for federal guidelines compliance,” said Madden. “Then it probably will come back to the MOTA board for the final decision.
“We’re trying to keep it as local as we can,” he added.
MOTA will receive $311,316. Madden said the money probably won’t be received until around Sept. 1.
Determining what constitutes “buying local” can also be a matter of perspective, as evidenced with the printing of Little League uniforms earlier this year. Don Falk, owner of T-Shirt Express, was one of several local printers who bid on the package. The job was awarded to Design One, located on Harcourt Road.
“They only have one person in the store,” said Falk. “Their printing is actually done in Newark.”
Falk said that by having the printing done in Newark, the bulk of the taxes go to the city of Newark rather than Mount Vernon. In addition, he said, employees will spend their paychecks in Newark, not Mount Vernon.
“[At T-Shirt Express], we all live here in Knox County, pay taxes in the county,” he said. “If I would have gotten the ball team [job], I would have hired. It would have been part-time help, but still, I would have hired. With people laying off, I would have added to the payroll.
“In these economic times, if you can deal locally, it’s absurd if you go out of town.”
Ryan Pentz, president of the Mount Vernon Baseball Association, said it is a board decision which company prints the uniforms. He said the bids from the two companies were very similar, within a couple of hundred dollars of each other.
“We try to do all of our business locally,” he said. “As a board, we have to ask how are we going to spend the parents’ money and the community’s money. That’s a heavy responsibility.”
Pentz said that as a business in Mount Vernon, Design One does pay taxes locally.
“It’s a new and up-and-coming business,” he said. “Yes, the printing is done in Newark, but she wants to put printers here in Mount Vernon. It has to grow, just like any business.
“She lives in Utica, and she has a storefront in Mount Vernon. It’s not like it’s a national company,” he added.
Falk said if Design One’s production facility was located in Mount Vernon, he would understand equal consideration being given when awarding the print job.
“I attempt as much as possible to buy locally,” he said. “I donate to the community. We try to do so much locally, that you would hope people would reciprocate. It’s hard to see what more you could do as a business to get people to support you.”