Shopping local small businesses helps Middle Georgia

Everyone shops national chains or buys off from time to time. Sometimes it is the only option for certain items, or the only sensible choice for bulk items that are sold as commodities. However, there are a number of great reasons to shop small local merchants that should be considered that go beyond finding the minimum price in an online retailer or the familiar of a national chain.

Bearfoot Tavern Bar
The Bearfoot bar has a classic design that reminds one of an old American pub or continental brasserie. Photo by Doug Deal.

The biggest advantage is financial. Small local businesses are owned by your family, friends, and neighbors and their profit mostly stays in town. Local business profits are used to help the local economy–which creates jobs for your neighbors. Several recent studies in multiple cities of the economic impacts of buying from local businesses showed that 2-4 times as much economic impact is generated locally per dollar spent at small local businesses than their national chain competitors. This multiplier means that there is more money for investment, development and taxes.

Li’l Benny’s is tucked away behind Suntrust and Mikado Japanese Steakhouse, across from Ingleside Baptist Church. Photo by Doug Deal.

The reason for this is that national chains, even franchises, direct a large amounts of the profits back to the corporate owner and supplies are generally always purchased from a national distribution network. Online retailers do not even have the economic impact of hiring local employees. On the other hand, a local business not only hires local workers, all of the profits go to local owners who then spend locally and are taxed locally. Instead of profits generated in Macon generating taxes to pay for roads in New York or California, they remain in Middle Georgia.

Dinner Bell Sign
Dinner Bell is located near Sams and next to Serena Wholesale on Eisenhower. Photo by Doug Deal.

Another advantage of shopping local small business is that it increases variety. National chains work long and hard to make sure your experience in one store is the same as the next. This can be a good thing if uniformity is what you are looking for, but it also means that when the options available are simply a handful of national branded stores, anyone looking for something different is out of luck.

Small businesses are often built on a level of customer service that national chains cannot match. Usually this is because no one really has the level of commitment that a business owner possesses. That store represents a significant investment on the part of the small business owner. A worker at a national chain store can find a number of other jobs and isn’t on the hook for the debt and liabilities of a local proprietor. Owning a small business is hard work, and is impossible without a high level of dedication. Frequently, that dedication to the success of a small business carries over to a broader dedication to success of the surrounding community.

El Camino Front
El Camino means “the road” in Spanish and can be found on 2nd Street in downtown Macon. Photo by Doug Deal.

Local businesses also can provide a niche of service that national chains are reluctant to offer. When you have a large national store, profit is highly dependent upon normalizing your operation to be as efficient as possible. All too often, this means cutting corners in ways that shave pennies off the costs but when multiplied by the millions of items sold, represent a large margin. This means reducing the stock of less popular items and marketing to the “average,” which often times means no one is truly happy, just not offended.

A smaller operation can tailor their business to meeting a niche market. If it is collectibles, antiques, service providers or just a local grocery store, they can easily decide to stock whatever they want, from whatever suppliers they want. If the community suddenly has a demand for something new the store can purchase supplies immediately, while a national chain has to clear it with their headquarters and justify adding it to their list of offerings.

Tommy's Outside
Exterior view of Tommy’s. Photo by Doug Deal.

Taken together, this allows communities with a tradition of shopping locally to remain unique. There are some people that want to see every shopping area have a Best Buy, Staples, Bed Bath and Beyond, a Chipotle, Olive Garden, Kroger, McDonalds and a Lowes, but for others, this is best described as a real drag. When so many dollars flow into these stores and out to their corporate headquarters it kills the local character that makes a community unique. Every time someone decides to buy a low quality yet consistent 10-taco pack from Taco Bell, it is a choice against a neighbor with his own small Mexican restaurant…a neighbor who likely has kids in your child’s school or attends your church.

Grey Goose Players Grill
The Grey Goose Players Grill is in the Forsyth Landing Shopping Center. Photo by Doug Deal.

One doesn’t have to completely eschew national chains and online retailers to buy local. Some things are not reasonably provided for by the local economy. But some thought should be given to the impact a purchase will make. If you are tired of seeing so many closed shops littering the roads of Middle Georgia, the way to change it is in the palm of your hand, just as soon as you take out some bill or a credit card. Be okay with paying a little more for better food, more variety and a better economy that can even benefit you directly.


Commentary: Truth is often a matter of perspective

We are often very certain of some facts because we have observed something first hand or “seen it with our own eyes.” We thus disengage our critical thinking about those circumstance and when challenged by someone with a differing viewpoint we dig in and neglecting to acknowledge that our own point of view could be obscured by circumstances or clouded by our own biases.

The disk of the sun from space in infrared, colored to appear as you might expect it to look, even though infrared is invisible to the human eye. Photo by Nasa.
The disk of the sun from space in infrared, colored to appear as you might expect it to look, even though infrared is invisible to the human eye. Photo by NASA.

One literal example of this is our sun. If I asked “What color is the sun ?” nearly everyone would say “yellow.” It is true that the sun often appears yellow and is depicted as yellow in children’s drawings going back to the days when humans lived in caves. From a absolute “truth” standpoint, this is not correct.

Located in the deep atmospheric well of Earth’s surface, the sun appears yellow because the air molecules scatter the shorter wavelengths of light making the colors green, blue, indigo and violet disappear from the sun’s disk and appear instead in the sky which is also not actually blue. 

Seen from space, the sun is brilliantly and blindingly white, as it is composed of all the colors of the visible spectrum. If instead, you found the peak intensity of light, it would fall at the boundary between the wavelengths of blue and green, a turquoise sun. But the intensities of the other colors are close enough together that our eyes perceive it as white in space. Because of this issue, Astronomers will go so far as to color space images of the sun as yellow so laymen won’t be confused by the white disk at times even when taking pictures in the invisible colors of infrared and ultraviolet.

Within our atmosphere the sun isn’t a constant hue and displays many colors. High in the sky, where the trip through the atmosphere is the shortest and especially at high altitudes, the sun is much more white and much more blinding. As it first rises to start the new day, or as it sinks to the horizon before nightfall, our star becomes more and more yellow until eventually it will appear red as even the yellow light is stripped away by the longer pathway light must travel through our air.

Yet, even knowing this, if you were prompted to draw a sun or describe it to someone, you would say that it is yellow and the entire world would agree. But the sun is white.

Now take this analogy and apply it to every day circumstances. Juries will give eye witness testimony great weight over other evidence, especially if the witness proclaims how sure they are about what they saw. However, human memory is imperfect and one of the ways the brain makes up for this imperfection is to fill in the gaps with the expectations of that very same brain. Further, the more certain one is about something they remember, the more likely they reinforced the memory by pondering it and working through details, usually adding elements that were never seen in the first place until all that is remembered is the edited memory.

In addition, our definition of the truth could be a result of different assumptions. The question “What color is the sun?” asks not what color the sun appears under a many miles thick blanket of nitrogen and oxygen, yet when asked the question, people will assume those stipulations when answering the question. The same goes for question like “What is the largest state?” If you said “California”, you made the assumption that population is the basis of the question and if someone else replied “Alaska”, they made the assumption that area was the basis. Does this make a liar of the person who answered the other way? Does it make you or they wrong, or does it merely mean that the both of you are correct within their own perspective and assumptions.

Truth is a noble thing to pursue, but one must be cognoscente of the limitations of our ability to  the know the truth. Don’t get angry when someone disagrees with you, no matter how certain you are. Discuss it, learn why they believe what they do. Not only will you learn something about their point of view, you will learn more about your own.

Lastly, stop being so certain. Certainty is a killer of intellect. Inteligence is always questioning and rethinking, even that which is considered “settled.” The next time that you feel your limited experience is absolute truth, think about the color of the sun. This does not mean to stop fighting for and supporting what you believe is true, it only means to spend more time verifying the truth, and to question your own assumptions to ensure they are correct. If you expect others to do it, don;t you own them the same courtesy?

Commentary: How government can speed broadband access

This editorial comes from Kelly McCutchen, the President of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation and is re-posted with their permission. The GPPF is an independent think tank that proposes market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians. 

Kelly McCutchen, President of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.
Kelly McCutchen is a native of Ellijay, Georgia, and a graduate of Georgia Tech. He was Assistant Vice President in the Trust Department of Trust Company Bank in Atlanta before joining the Georgia Public Policy Foundation in 1993. Photo and caption courtesy GPPF.

Internet access is foundational in today’s economy. Lack of access can grind business to a halt and hobble critical services including health care, transportation and education. As a result, forward-thinking telecommunication policy is a priority in making Georgia a great place to live and economically competitive.

Georgia still has work to do to increase access to broadband but the news is good: Statewide, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reports show, 87 percent of Georgians have access to wired broadband connections with speeds of 25 megabits per second (mbps) or higher and 93 percent have access to speeds of 10 mbps or higher.

A whopping 99 percent of Georgia’s population has access to wireless broadband of 10 mbps or higher. For perspective: Netflix recommends 3.0 mbps for high-definition video streaming.

In rural areas, 75 percent have access to wired speeds of 25 Mbps or higher. That is the 14th-highest rate in the nation, well above the US average of 61 percent and higher than all neighboring states except North Carolina’s 80 percent. (This does not include those who may have access to wireless broadband.)

To the best of our knowledge, every Georgia school, public health department and hospital is connected to wired broadband.

But too many Georgians still lack access to broadband. Plus, it is a constant challenge to keep up with the increasing need for greater data speeds, lower latency and new technologies. So what can government do to improve the situation?

One rule of economics is that if you tax something you get less of it. More specifically, economists largely agree that the sales tax should not apply to business inputs. That’s why Georgia wisely does not tax raw materials used in manufacturing and recently phased out the state sales tax on energy used in manufacturing. It may be part of the reason for the surge of new manufacturing jobs in Georgia.

By contrast, Georgia assesses a sales tax on telecommunications network equipment investment; 20 states do not. Georgia consumers also see additional sales taxes and 911 charges on their bill. This adds up to a tax rate of 8.81 percent. Federal taxes raise it to 14.64 percent – and that’s not counting additional franchise fees imposed on wired services.

Clearly, the first way for state and local governments to encourage broadband investment and competition is to reduce or eliminate sales taxes, other taxes and fees.

Second, Georgia governments could make investing in telecom infrastructure easier by streamlining regulation.

The film industry provides a good analogy. Having movies or television shows filmed in your community can be exciting but disrupting. The Georgia Department of Economic Development created the Camera Ready Communities program to help streamline the process for production companies and provide a single point of contact for citizens and businesses potentially inconvenienced.

Georgia should encourage “Broadband Ready Communities.” Indiana and Wisconsin already have a similar process, which includes granting equal access to public rights-of-way, infrastructure and poles.

Local governments should also promote “dig once” programs, encouraging the placement of conduit along roads and inside buildings that can be used by multiple service providers to encourage competition. (The surge in road construction in Georgia provides an opportune time to lay down conduit.)

In rural areas with less population density, reducing or repealing taxes and streamlining the regulatory process may be insufficient to attract private investment. Public-private partnerships can help.

Part of that process involves demand aggregation: surveying residents and businesses to gauge demand for certain broadband speeds and price points, and determining what local governments are willing to invest to connect anchor institutions.

A competitive reverse auction can identify the most efficient bidder or, in a worst-case scenario, identify the remaining financial gap. Public investment can then be assessed.

Local governments should not try to operate their own network. Consultants who paint a rosy picture of municipal networks are often the only ones to come out on top while cities are left with fewer than expected customers, higher than expected expenses and long-term debt.

Creating and operating a broadband network is not a core function of government. In the worst case, the local government could hire a private operator to build out and operate the network.

Georgia’s broadband network has thrived thanks to market-oriented policies implemented over the past two decades. Filling rural gaps may require public-private partnerships to attract similar private investment. Broadband infrastructure investment and innovation are far more likely to occur when government steps aside instead of standing in the way.

Commentary: Tearing Down The Walls: Restoring Ballot Access

This post comes from State Senator Josh McKoon (R-Columbus), who has been a strong advocate of the Georgia taxpayer and defender of the rights of citizens, even when it runs counter to the wishes of the leadership of his own party. In this article, he explains ballot access and why it is long overdue for reform.

Commentary: Tearing Down The Walls: Restoring Ballot Access
By Senator Josh McKoon
State Senator Josh McKoon
State Senator Josh McKoon (R-Columbus). Photo credit Georgia Senate.

Georgia has been recognized for having the most restrictive ballot access laws in the country. As a Republican State Senator, all I had to do this year to access the ballot was to sign a form and tender a certified check for my qualifying fee. Due to a recent change in the law, if I had wanted to run as an Independent, all I would have had to do was declare that and pay my qualifying fee. But for any Georgian who wants to run for office that is not already an elected official, they must not only file the qualifying paperwork but also gather a threshold number of signatures, one percent (1%) of registered voters for statewide ballot access and five percent (5%) of registered voters for ballot access for other offices.

By the way, it is not as simple as someone signing the form. They must sign the form, provide their address, their county of residence and the date they signed the form. Each sheet, with 15 signature locations, must be circulated by one and only one person. A separate person from the “circulator,” as he or she is called, must witness and notarize the signature of the circulator. If the necessary information is outside the boxes provided, even if complete, it may be thrown out by elections officials.
Routinely, independent candidates, who manage to accept the daunting challenge of gathering signatures and submitting them to elections officials, receive a letter stating they haven’t submitted enough valid signatures. They are not told which signatures are invalid, or even why they have been invalidated. To contest such a finding a would-be Independent candidate needs to hire a lawyer to have a chance to successfully navigate the system to get a favorable decision.
Just this year I represented three such candidates, along with my colleague Bin Minter, who merely wanted to have the chance to serve their fellow citizens in county level offices. After dozens of hours of work and two separate hearings, these three candidates are on the ballot, for the moment. One of them may need us again to contest an appeal to the Georgia Court of Appeals so votes for him will count when they are cast on November 8.
Over the years there is one question I have to ask about all of this: why? In an era of unrivaled apathy among our population, why on earth would we maintain barriers to people that want to get involved with their government?
The answer is simple enough – elected officials benefit from the current system. Less competition means less of a threat to their next re-election bid. Conservatives are always talking about the free market and how competition makes everyone better. Is there some exception when it comes to the free marketplace of ideas and officeholders? I think not.
In addition to candidates that wish to run on an Independent line, Georgia law has made it incredibly difficult for third parties to obtain ballot access. Prior to 1943, a party needed only to submit a slate of candidates to get a ballot line. Now the byzantine requirements are so burdensome that a judge recently held the ballot access law unconstitutional as applied to Presidential candidates.
If, in my case, I believe the Republican Party has the best policy ideas, why should I be afraid of running against a Constitution Party, Green Party, or other third party candidate? Unless I am afraid I cannot persuade a majority of voters that our ideas are the best, there is no reason for me to fear competition. And increasing the number of voices in our political debate means more ideas get heard and that we have a greater quality of discussion over a larger number of topics. This is good and healthy for a democratic process.
The only argument ballot access restriction defenders can really make is that Independent candidates do not have to run in a primary and so are guaranteed general election ballot access in a system that does not restrict them while party candidates must win a primary.
So here is my solution: Allow everyone to run for any office upon filing of the paperwork and submission of their qualifying fee. Have a “jungle primary” where everyone runs together in one election instead of having multiple party primaries.
This also eliminates another problem when voters are interested in voting for one person in one party primary and another person in another party primary. They cannot do that under current law but having one unified primary election would resolve that while also eliminating the Independent advantage as to access to the general election ballot. The top two vote-getters in the “jungle primary” would advance to the general election in November.
Georgia should want to lead the nation in welcoming diverse voices to the table when it comes to running for office. Eliminating onerous ballot access requirements is not only the right thing to do, it will lead to a more robust debate about public policy and help insure in the long term better solutions to the challenges facing our state are thoroughly discussed and vetted. It is time to tear down the walls to ballot access and give Georgia voters the same robust choices at the ballot box that they already enjoy elsewhere in our free market economy.

Commentary: Families are under attack

Every few months, it’s a different family.

Lauren Deal, attorney-at-law
Lauren Deal is a former teacher and prosecutor who is now in private practice with the Deal Law Firm in Macon. Her areas of practice include Family Law and Criminal Defense.

Some are charged because they let their children walk to neighborhood parks without an adult. Some are charged because they allowed their children to stay in parked automobiles — in reasonable weather — while their parents ran into stores, offices, or even job interviews. Some are charged for allowing their children to play alone on playgrounds. Some are charged because their children miss more than the allowed number of days of public schooling.

Kid pulled over by cops.The end result is the same: the children are unhurt, at least physically.

The parents are arrested, interrogated by law enforcement and child protective services agencies, every aspect of their parenting scrutinized, their choices demonized. They may be charged criminally, or they lose their children, or they lose their jobs…or all of the above. This process is far more damaging to their children than the incident that brought their parents into the seat of judgment in the first place.

What has happened to our society? We have criminalized parenthood.

I was born in 1977. As a child, my favorite movies included Goonies, E.T., and Flight of the Navigator. What did they all have in common? Children having adventures without their parents.

The 1980’s were a good time to be a kid. We lived off in the country on a dirt road, and we had free range as long as my brother and I were together and took the dog with us. We went all over several miles and several hundred acres, making our own adventures. Our parents worked in Atlanta, back then a 30-minute commute.

My parents had enough money to buy us an above-ground pool, so in the warm months, we spent a lot of time swimming. Today, my parents would be jailed for letting two 8 year-old kids stay home alone all summer, much less for allowing us to swim alone.

When storms started, we waiting ’til lightning crashed down around us and heavy rains shook the pool water before finally dashing through the downpour to get into the house.

One day in 5th grade, my brother and I walked up the path we took from where our bus dropped us off beside a busy highway. We saw sand mixed in with the dirt, leaves, and brambles. As we neared our house, we learned what happens when an above-ground pool is struck by lightning: It explodes.

Never again have I treated thunderstorms as casually as I did when I was a child.

Meanwhile, we don’t give today’s children the space to make dumb choices. We don’t give parents the chance to BE PARENTS. We criminalize behavior that harms no one, using vaguely-worded statutes about reckless conduct or child endangerment. We demand that parents watch their children 24-hours a day (while simultaneously tsk-tsking parents who choose to co-sleep with their children), keep them in school regardless if they are sick, and hover over their playtime with antiseptic, band-aids, and a cell phone poised to call 911 at the slightest whiff of disorder.

We have turned parents into criminals, and children into our prisoners.