When Kimber Lanning first began organizing Arizona’s locally-owned businesses in 2003, she was focused on combating unfair policies that benefited large corporations by providing a voice for Arizona’s best homegrown companies. She could not have imagined that fifteen years later, she would be leading the nation’s largest local business coalition which is continually recognized as a national leader in innovative community and economic development.
“My idea for Local First Arizona was simple in the beginning: I wanted to level the playing field for locally owned businesses so they could succeed in Arizona’s unbalanced economy, and I knew that we would be more impactful if we could build a collaborative coalition of local businesses across the state,” said Kimber Lanning, Founder of Local First Arizona. “As the years passed and our work expanded, I realized there were many more layers to building a stronger Arizona economy than just buying locally. If we were going to build opportunity for all, we needed to broaden our support for entrepreneurship and create innovative, inclusive programs that develop wealth in under-served communities.”
Building Opportunity for All Arizonans
In 2009, Lanning founded Local First Arizona Foundation (LFAF) to focus on deepening Arizona’s economy. In tandem with Local First Arizona’s (LFA) business coalition, the Foundation would utilize a multi-pronged effort to tackle some of the state’s largest challenges.
“We can tell people to buy local again and again, but if Arizona’s entrepreneurs and business owners don’t have the resources they need to be competitive, then the ‘Buy Local’ messaging will only go so far,” said Lanning. “In order for people to eat Arizona grown food, we need to be sure the food producers have the resources they need to get products to market safely and affordably. Likewise, in order for people to buy local, they need to have competitive and convenient local choices, especially in under-served areas that are traditionally limited to corporate chain options that extract wealth.’
This thinking led Lanning to embrace community and economic development programs through Local First Arizona Foundation, which innovatively connects people, locally owned businesses and communities. One example of this is Fuerza Local, a six-month business accelerator which teaches underserved micro-entrepreneurs important basics for financial literacy and business development. Fuerza Local is the first entrepreneurial training program in the country to incorporate moneypool savings to help develop credit history to bring an under-resourced population into mainstream banking. Graduates earn access to credit at fair market rates, allowing them to build businesses that help sustain their families and rebuild their neighborhoods.
In 2013, Lanning led a merger between the Foundation and the Arizona Rural Development Council to expand the organization throughout the state. As the federally designated rural development council, Lanning and her team coordinate the annual Rural Policy Forum and implement programs focused wholly on building self-reliance in Arizona’s small towns. The LFAF team is also responsible for Good Food Finder, the state’s first local food directory, and Science Happens Here, a STEM education game that uses trading cards strategically placed in small rural businesses to build a bridge between small town schools and local enterprises.
“All of our programs have one thing in common: they are actively expanding opportunities for Arizonans no matter their background, experience, or locale to achieve prosperity and build healthier, self-reliant communities,” said Lanning.
What’s Ahead for Local First Arizona Foundation
To continue growing Local First Arizona Foundation and its community development work around the state, Lanning is announcing a new leadership structure that will oversee both organizations through a new period of expansion.
“We’re living in a completely different economy than when I started Local First Arizona 15 years ago, and the same will be true in another 15 years. My plan is to grow both organizations to create a diverse and inclusive economy for Arizonans to thrive,” said Lanning. “We want Arizona to lead the nation on broad social and economic indicators by 2040. To reach this goal, I am elevating members of my team to leadership positions within both organizations so that they can help with the strategic planning and execution of our programming.”
As Lanning concentrates efforts to grow the programs of Local First Arizona Foundation, Deputy Director, Thomas Barr, will step into the Executive Director position of Local First Arizona, the membership coalition. “After 4 years of overseeing the business membership, I am ready to lead the coalition to new heights’, said Barr. “We are already planning AZ Fall Festival’s fourteenth annual event this November, which will be a great day to celebrate Arizona.”
In addition, Lanning is announcing the following team of statewide directors who will step into leadership positions across the state for both Local First Arizona and Local First Arizona Foundation:
- Natalie Morris, Director of Food Initiatives
- Tanairi Ochoa-Martinez, Director of Fuerza Local
- Chrisal Valencia, Creative Marketing Director
- Erica Fetherston, Communications Director
- Ruth Ellen Elinski, Northern Arizona Director
- Mike Peel, Southern Arizona Director
- Alisa Lyons, Director of Strategic Initiatives
“This leadership team will help us to achieve ambitious goals for Local First Arizona Foundation while continuing to serve our business members in Local First Arizona,” said Lanning. “This is an incredible team of people and I have full faith we will continue to rapidly build upon what we’ve achieved so far.” The total team includes 24 full-time employees in 6 statewide offices.
In addition to the expansion of the Foundation, Local First Arizona has its own plans for growth to support its business members across the state.
“With more than 3,100 business members, Local First Arizona is poised to bring more opportunities and resources to our members than ever before,” said Barr. “Members should be on the lookout for online business resources coming to our website this summer, seminars, and webinars covering a range of topics around business success, and new partnerships and collaborations that will benefit our business members, large and small.”
About Local First Arizona Foundation
Founded in 2009, Local First Arizona Foundation works to build a diverse, inclusive and prosperous Arizona economy by focusing on a wide range of strategic initiatives that target systems of inequity. These initiatives include powering Arizona’s entrepreneurs through the Fuerza Local Business Accelerator Program; celebrating Arizona’s homegrown foods through Good Food Finder, and strengthening small-town economies through the Arizona Rural Development Council. Find more information on building community self-reliance at localfirstazfoundation.org.
About Local First Arizona
Founded in 2003, Local First Arizona is the nation’s largest coalition of locally owned businesses. Local First educates consumers about the important social and economic impacts of supporting local enterprises while making it fun and easy to Buy Local.
Visit www.localfirstaz.com for a directory of more than 3,000 locally owned businesses.