Finding Big Support for Small Businesses

Finding Big Support for Small Businesses

By: Alex Gladu

Local businesses rely on loyal customers, neighbors and other individuals to keep them going, but they’re still missing out on some big consumers. Hopefully, that will soon change, however, as one city leader seeks to bring big spending to the small business sector.

Philadelphia City Controller Alan Butkovitz wants the city’s large “anchor institutions,” like the University of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia Eagles, to support the local economy by shopping small – even in bulk.

“We need to connect our history of making things with those large institutions that purchase things,” Butkovitz said. Earlier in January, Butkovitz released a report showing that Philadelphia’s 18 colleges and universities and 16 hospitals spend $5.3 billion a year on goods and services. He estimates that if anchor institutions like these increased their local spending by 25 percent, they would create 4,400 local jobs.

Many of Philadelphia’s large institutions already focus a portion of their purchasing on local businesses. For example, Temple University spent $44 million with small businesses last year, and the University of Pennsylvania spent more than $100 million with local businesses in its last fiscal year.

Butkovitz’s goal is to increase the impact these institutions have on the local community, by returning more money to the local economy and spurring local employment growth. To make his plan work, he encourages Philadelphia businesses to keep their prices competitive and anchor institutions to seek out these vendors.

Large institutions are seldom considered the target market for small businesses, but the strategy has already worked in other cities across the country. In Cleveland, for example, economic developers with nonprofit group Cleveland Foundation have come together to create and support small businesses with the ability to meet the needs of the city’s large institutions. As a result, the Cleveland Clinic, Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals, three of the city’s biggest spenders, have each awarded contracts with more local businesses, giving much needed support to surrounding neighborhoods.

Every dollar spent at a local business benefits the surrounding community, no matter where it comes from. But wouldn’t it be nice for those dollars to come in bulk?

Alex is a junior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she is double-majoring in Public Relations and Spanish.  Since becoming a writer for Independent We Stand, she has fully adopted the ‘buy local’ lifestyle.  Her favorite indie business is Sugarland, a bakery in Chapel Hill, N.C, where she has been known to go a little cupcake crazy. She hopes to attend law school and pursue a career in nonprofit or political communication.

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