Economy and Government and Technology

NOTIONS: This holiday season, 'It's jobs, stupid'

December 26, 2005

Bruce Hetrick is off for the holidays. But in the hope that you'll shop the after-Christmas sales locally, helping to spur job retention and growth in central Indiana, he offers the following column, which originally appeared on Oct. 27, 2003.

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat

Please put a penny in the old man's hat

If you haven't got a penny, a ha' penny will do,

If you haven't got a ha' penny, then God bless you

In early October, my wife, Pam, and I took a few days off and drove to Asheville, N.C. Pam has long wanted to see the Biltmore Estate there. A friend had recommended the town for its shops and galleries. And as always-in-a-hurry air travelers, we wanted to slow down and see the mountains up close.

Asheville was everything our friend promised: galleries and boutiques galore, a great independent book store, lots of locally-owned coffeehouses and cafés. (It's delightfully impossible to find a McDonald's, Burger King or Starbucks in downtown Asheville.)

As we strolled city streets, window shopping and gallery hopping, we found things we'd like to have. With each, we devised a test: Was this something we could find only in Asheville, or could we get the same item back home in Indiana?

Pam found a nice outfit, for example-a brand we'd never seen-so we bought it. We purchased a fun gift for a colleague, one that literally had her name written all over it.

When I found a sport coat I liked, however, one that's available in Indianapolis, I passed. Same thing with some hiking socks. I'd purchased a pair long ago at Galyan's and loved what they did for my aging arches. Spying the same brand at an Asheville outdoor store, I almost jumped. But it seemed wiser to support our hometown retailer.

So, on the last day of vacation, we went shopping in Indianapolis, picking up items we'd passed up in Asheville. At lunchtime, we decided to check out our city's newest, highest-end department store. We sat down to eat at Café Patachou inside Saks Fifth Avenue. Although Halloween was still several weeks away, we marveled at the surrounding Christmas displays-designed, no doubt, to spark the merry month of MasterCard.

America's retailers are forecasting a holly, jolly Christmas this year. They predict sales will increase 6 percent, compared to flat sales in 2002. If that happens, it will be the biggest hike since 1999, when holiday sales-fed by a soaring stock market and booming economy-climbed 8 percent.

But as we begin making our lists and checking them twice, we all face the Halloween-like dilemma Pam and I contemplated on vacation. Are we going to be tricked into spending our money on gifts that do little good for the local economy? Or will we treat local workers to a holiday feeding frenzy?

When he was managing Bill Clinton's first campaign for president, James Carville posted a now-famous sign that said, "It's the economy, stupid."

This holiday season, it's still the economy. But more specifically, "It's jobs, stupid."

Every day, my mailbox is crammed with catalogs. Harry & David wants to sell me produce. Pottery Barn wants to sell me decor. Victoria's Secret wants to sell me sex.

When I log onto my computer, Amazon.comwants to sell me books. Travelocity wants to sell me trips. And Tiger Direct wants to sell me technology.

If I buy from these catalog and online merchants, I'll certainly contribute to that 6 percent increase in U.S. retail sales.

But I'm going to get selfish this year. By voting with my credit card, I'm deciding where I direct that 6 percent. And my key criterion will be Indianapolis jobs.

Yes, the book from Amazon might cost a few bucks less than at Borders downtown. Sure, it might be more convenient to call L.L. Bean than to drive a few miles to Marigold's. And certainly, those catalog sales might help our local Brown earn more green.

But if we shop from non-local catalog and online retailers, we send our cash outof-state. If we send our cash out of state, local stores will close. If local stores close, we'll lose the restaurants, basketball teams, theaters, architects, contractors, attorneys, accounts, schools, etc., those stores and their shoppers support. And if we lose those, you'll be whining to the IBJ, "There are no good stores, jobs or things to do around here."

These past few weeks, lots of folks have complained that a state government contract went to a firm from India. So why commit the same sin by supporting a catalog call center in Bombay?

Others complained when a New York public relations firm was hired to promote Indianapolis. So why support an online retailer's Buffalo distribution center?

But hey, if you want to shop out of town, be sure to pocket your savings. That way, when you pass the Salvation Army bell-ringer, you can pitch in. The unemployed folks in Indianapolis will appreciate the chump change.



Hetrick is president and creative director at Hetrick Communications Inc., a local public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bhetrick@ibj.com.
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