Local Land Ownership and the American Dream

imageThree years ago Paula and I became first time homeowners and landlords when we purchased our central Austin duplex. Despite all the paperwork (I never knew I could sign my name so many times), it was all pretty thrilling. But looking back at it now, I can see more clearly than ever that this process, more than anything else we have done so far, helped us better secure our financial footing by giving us the ability to make payments as if we were renting, but build equity in the process. And of course, it gave us a sense of ownership and control over our own little piece of the American Dream. Continue reading

Growing Deep

imageThe unique flavor of local businesses is as beautiful as it is important, helping to make each place special and combating the spread of “Anywhere, USA” towns. Yet one thing that has perplexed me is how do these same businesses retain their local image in the face of success? Isn’t expansion and the franchising of stores the logical next step?

Well, I recently discovered that growing deep in place can be an alternative to growing broadly. Here are two great examples of this concept: Continue reading

A Slow Money Economy

Sandbox turtleThis past weekend, Paula, the baby and I took a roadtrip from Austin to Dallas along Interstate-35. Along that drive I was struck by the number of chain and franchise restaurants that lined the highway. Where were the local businesses? Why wasn’t there a better mix of both local and national dining options? Continue reading

Economics vs. Finance

imageOver the past few weeks, I have tried to make a very simple point: places have a strategic and economic interest in fostering locally-owned businesses. In addition to creating that unique charm and identity that attracts people and investment, locally owned businesses circulate more money within the local economy and help prevent money from leaking out in the first place. With these economic benefits (not to mention the social benefits associated with business ownership in close relationship with employees and customers), one would think that local governments in particular would be enthusiastic localists, engaging in policies that protect their own business communities from global forces hoping to filter local dollars to a corporate headquarters and on to stockholders worldwide. However, with few exceptions, local government has actively pursued exactly the opposite strategy: Continue reading

Small Town Decline: 1920s & the Rise of Chain Stores

Money MultiplierOne of the things I enjoy most about this blog is being able to test my own ideas and assumptions on the wider world. Any feedback I get, whether harsh criticism, enthusiastic agreement, or fraternal correction, presents an opportunity for deeper investigation and growth. The publication of my recent post, 1940s America – The Start of Small Town Decline, gave me just such an opportunity, as a number of readers wrote to me expressing their belief that the start of small town decline predated the war mobilization efforts of World War II. I agree that while war mobilization may well be one piece of the puzzle it is far from the whole story.  So what are some of the other culprits? To get a more comprehensive view of what happened to the small town, I took another look into our economic past. Continue reading