Buy Local initiative pushed
Federal, state and Fay-Penn officials met on Friday with small business and farm owners at the Christian W. Klay Winery in Farmington to explain initiatives to help the local economy and local residents. A crowd of approximately 50 heard the presentations.
The top industry in Pennsylvania is not manufacturing or the Marcellus shale natural gas industry, it is agriculture, according to state Secretary of Agriculture George Greig.
Greig said he is well aware of the problems faced by farmers. He and his brother operate a farm in Crawford County, just a few miles from the Pennsylvania-Ohio border. He outlined new initiatives developed to keep residents healthy and to help areas like Fayette County prosper.
One such program, the Buy Local Network, an initiative for the local economy of the Fay-Penn Economic Development Council, has been growing over the past four years, according to Michael Jordan, Fay-Penn executive director, and Robert Junk, local economy manager for Fay-Penn.
Junk suggested each county resident attempt to spend $20 each month at a local business, buying local products. Each dollar spent in a local business will generate at least three times the economic benefit of a dollar spent in a non-local establishment and would support their friends and neighbors while reducing transportation, cutting air pollution and providing healthier foods, he explained.
“Nationally, small businesses are the number one generator of jobs,” Junk said.
“Our mission here, in itself, is to increase employment here in Fayette County,” Jordan said, adding that Fay-Penn has primarily concentrated on the manufacturing sector.
He said the decision was made about three years ago to branch out to expand agriculture and tourism. The reason why is based on the history of the area. Mining and the steel industries were once the background of the local economy, he said. Now those industries are gone. Fay-Penn is attempting to recharge the local economy.
“Small businesses will keep us going, will keep our economy thriving,” Jordan said, adding that those include local farms and food businesses.
Jordan said the state's 63,000 farms have contributed $67 billion to the Pennsylvania economy. He added that people are becoming more aware of the sources and of the quality of their food products.
Fay-Penn has used its resources in partnership with the small-business development center at St. Vincent College to bring in help for farmers, small businesses and entrepreneurs on at least two days each month to help startup businesses to create business plans and to help get loans and grants through agencies such as the federal Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The Buy Local program has been successful to the point where it is expanding into Greene County.
“If we reach a place where we can no longer produce enough food for our nation, we're going to be in trouble,” Greig said. “In the past year, I have talked with a lot of people from a lot of other countries who are reaching this point very quickly.”
He said those countries include Australia, Wales and Germany, and they are looking, in some cases, to supplement their food supply. Buy Local is helping our area out by giving us a local supply that is not dependent on some other part of the state, the nation or the world.
Greig said Pennsylvania will be exporting 160,800 dairy replacement heifers to Kazakhstan, after it was determined there would be too many coming of age to produce milk here.
The state also now has a “Pa. Preferred” marketing plan for products and crops grown locally. Some have grown from small operations with work sometimes done in their own kitchens to products produced by small manufacturers in a commercial setting for the large grocery chains.
And this helps market local products over a much wider area.
“We are within an eight-hour drive of 80 percent of the population of the United States and 60 percent of the population of Canada,” Greig said. “We have an opportunity to provide that population with fresh fruits and vegetables and other food products.”
He said there are several opportunities with the development of the Marcellus shale gas fields to help agriculture in Pennsylvania.
The state also leads the nation in food safety and the state provides products to other nations who cannot safely produce food products themselves. More than 24,000 metric tons of powdered milk have been shipped to China.
One problem in Pennsylvania is a lack of farm labor.
Greig said crops that cannot be picked by machine are often left in the fields for a lack of laborers to do the work. He said politicians do not understand the need for immigrant laborers, saying the unemployment rate is high. But, Greig said, the farm jobs go unfilled because few citizens will do the work.
Gary Reed, business specialist for the USDA who works out of Greensburg, listed the many programs, including low interest loans, available through the federal government to help farmers and small businesses.
This help includes providing resources to use renewable energy — wind, geothermal and solar, for example — on the farm.
Joe Podolinski provided information on National Payment Solutions for local, independent small-business owners.
Junk ended the summit with a review of the work being done by Fay-Penn to inform people of the benefits of buying local products to create long-term stability to the local communities.
Karl Polacek is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-626-3538.