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Commissioner pushes buy local campaign.

'Keep It in Cobb' sees consortium of business, government, residents.

By Janel Davis

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A Cobb County commission­er is looking to help small busi­nesses through a local-buying campaign aimed at keeping dol­lars in the county.

JoAnn Birrell campaigned for the commission last year on a "Keep It in Cobb" platform. Now that she's on the commis­sion, Birrell has organized an eight-member steering commit­tee to develop policies for the program.

The committee is using a three-pronged approach, hop­ing the county will begin doing more business with Cobb busi­nesses, firms in the county will do more work with other Cobb companies, and that coun­ty residents will become more aware of the buying opportuni­ties in their own backyard.

"I went door-to-door while campaigning and people talk­ed about losing their jobs and working out of their homes and being struggling small-busi­ness owners," Birrell said. "I just think if we pull together and support our own business­es, we can keep these business­es alive."

Thus far, the Keep It in Cobb program, which is not fully de­veloped, would include a con­sortium of local businesses marketed to the public and pri­vate sectors through an aware­ness campaign, complete with branding, a logo, a website and social media outreach, commit­tee leaders said.

"My business is based on suc­cesses of relationships, and re­ally that's what we're doing," said Karen Traeger, the Cobb committee's leader and own­er of receivables management company Worry Free Receiv­ables.

The committee also is work­ing on an incentive system to reward customers for spending their money with local compa­nies and plans a monthly Cobb company spotlight. The first company spotlight will be on the Atlanta Beat women's pro­fessional soccer team, which plays at a stadium on the cam­pus of Kennesaw State Univer­sity.

"Really small businesses are struggling hard to stay afloat. A lot of them are hanging on by their fingernails," said Ron Skeean Sr, owner of Casual Im­age Furniture in Marietta.

The family business start­ed in 1984, employs between seven and 10 people, and has grown to include a second building with other small busi­ness tenants.

"I think this is something these individual businesses can't do on their own," Skeean said. "They need customers coming in their doors, and this might just be one of the ways to help them do that."

There are 655,552 incorpo­rated businesses in Georgia, ac­cording to state economic de­velopment figures. About 97.5 percent of those businesses are categorized by the federal gov­ernment as small businesses, which have fewer than 500 employees. Ninety-five percent employ fewer than 50 workers, and 87 percent of all Georgia businesses employ five workers or less.

"I just think if we pull together and support our own businesses, we  can keep these businesses alive" JoAnn Birrell, County commissioner

"If local companies find it profitable to organize and market themselves to make the business environment better, that is a good idea, as long as it's privately financed," said Mi­chael Reksulak, an economist at Georgia Southern University.

As for offering incentives to shoppers, "you can try to con­vince them, but you can't really compel them to go against their interest when they are spend­ing their own money," he said.

Business leaders in Gordon County in North Georgia are us­ing customers' preferences to their advantage.

Recognizing that many of the county's residents make shop­ping trips to Atlanta, "we said, even if you're going to Atlan­ta, then get your gas in Gordon on the way, or get your break­fast or lunch at a Gordon drive-through on the way," said Joni Harbin, spokeswoman for the local chamber of commerce.

Gordon, one of the few coun­ties Cobb organizers have found with a formal local-buy­ing program, began its Keep It in the County campaign in June 2009 as an advertising coop­erative for chamber business members.

Harbin admitted measuring the program's success is a chal­lenge because no statistics are kept, but the anecdotal results from businesses have been pos­itive.

In Paulding County, Cobb's neighbor to the west, commis­sioners adopted new policies in October to give local business­es an advantage in bidding for county jobs. If a local business is within 10 percent of the top bidder and willing to match the low bid, the contract is award­ed to the Paulding company, said Jennifer Alford, the coun­ty's purchasing manager.

The only preferential terms for local businesses wanting to do work with Cobb are includ­ed in the general bid guide­lines, according to the purchas­ing department. A county con- -tract would go to a Cobb com­pany first only in the case of an exact tie with the winning bid­der. Preference is next given to a state vendor, then a regional vendor in the same situation.

There are no preferences or set-asides for local compa­nies on statewide contracts, but there have been some dis­cussions on adding the provi­sions, especially for small busi­nesses, said Rodney Jenkins, spokesman for the Georgia De­partment of Administrative Ser­vices.


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