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."
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.
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.
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.”