Local First Arizona advocates for the economic and cultural benefits of strong local economies and works to build equitable communities that provide opportunity for all people. Their Fuerza Local program seeks to serve the Latino community through resources like their accelerator program for Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs.
Founder Kimber Lanning started the organization after recognizing that independent businesses, including her own record store Stinkweeds, were at a disadvantage to out-of-state chain stores. These big box stores, in addition to having broad name recognition, had more access to marketing resources, tax incentives and special distributer deals. Indie businesses like Lanning’s were often not as discoverable by the consumer. This was especially true in Arizona, where the population largely consists of people who moved from outside the state.
To combat this disadvantage, Local First Arizona (LFA) was founded. It began as an online directory where citizens could find unique businesses to support in their community. Now, it has grown to include networking mixers, marketing promotion, a foundation, educational seminars and other campaigns and events.
In its 15 years of service, Local First Arizona has grown steadily to include over 3,000 members across the state of Arizona. Through partnerships with the Business Alliance of Local Living Economies (BALLE) and B Lab, LFA inspires business owners and gives them the tools to operate in a socially responsible manner. These partnerships also enabled LFA to better understand the powerful impact of local business. Research shows that local businesses have a strong connection to their community and give back to nonprofits, source goods and services from other local businesses, advocate for issues that are important to them and create quality jobs. An understanding of the local business community’s impact and challenges is critical to the organization’s success.
To further their social impact, LFA founded the Local First Arizona Foundation in 2009. The Foundation works to build equitable communities that enable all people to build healthy futures for themselves and their families. Its Fuerza Local program launched in 2013 with the objective of investing in small businesses and growing the economy. This program includes a business accelerator program for Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs to give them the tools and funding to make their businesses successful.
About one-third of the population in Arizona is Hispanic or Latino, a big portion of which is Spanish-preferred. Many Spanish-preferred Arizonans want to run successful businesses, but are restricted from accessing resources and opportunities that are only provided in English. The Fuerza Local Business Accelerator program fills that gap by offering underserved Latino entrepreneurs the opportunity to learn from industry professionals in a 6-month program without language barriers, at no cost to the participant. Throughout the program, entrepreneurs and business owners build a sustainable foundation for their business through rigorous courses taught by experts in accounting, marketing and business planning.
Berni Reina is one of the program’s graduates. When he and his wife were laid off from the company they had dedicated their careers to, he applied for the 2nd cohort of the Fuerza Local Business Accelerator Program in 2014 with only an idea. Reina is now the founder and owner of Colados Coffee & Crepes, a popular café in the West Valley that provides the community with coffee and new job opportunities.
The Fuerza Local Business Accelerator helped us tremendously. We started from zero, but little by little, we obtained valuable tools from those 12 courses that weren’t available anywhere else. Fuerza Local was an incredible resource that helped me grow as a new entrepreneur. – Berni Reina
With the growing awareness and acceptance, the Fuerza Local Business Accelerator program has received praise and recognition for its commitment to the Hispanic community. With only nine graduates in the first class, the program now accepts 60 entrepreneurs each semester in a variety of locations across the Valley. The first graduating class of 60 participants is set to graduate in July 2017. Fuerza Local hopes to soon be able to offer its program across Arizona, reaching more entrepreneurs and helping create more economic equity across the state. Since its launch, the program has graduated over 100 businesses, created over 75 new jobs and generated more than $5 million in new revenue.
In addition to the Fuerza Local program, Local First Arizona Foundation operates the Rural Development Council, which works to highlight the unique needs of rural communities across the state. They also continue to grow programs designed to address needs that that are specific to the region. Agriculture is a large economic driver in the state, and LFA Foundation’s Good Food Finder is a database where citizens can find farmers markets, CSAs, breweries, farms, community gardens and retailers who sell local food products. Newer programs include ForUm, an initiative to grow civic engagement through responsible and inclusive development and a green business certification to encourage environmental sustainability. Furthermore, LFA hosted a Social Entrepreneurship Summit in 2016 to help spread these ideas to business owners.
LFA joined SEA because of strong ties to the mission of the organization. They consistently see that businesses, both for profit and nonprofit, are working hard to solve problems and provide a vibrant state that supports entrepreneurship. SEA provides a great opportunity to get together with businesses working on important issues, and to promote their work to a larger audience.
To learn more about Local First Arizona, check out their member directory profile.