Around 150 local business owners and community members gathered at the NP Event Space Thursday to learn about a new buy local initiative designed to boost the local economy.

The buy local business summit served as a kickoff of sorts for Lakes PROUD, a collaboration of the Brainerd Lakes, Crosslake, Pequot Lakes, Cuyuna Lakes and Nisswa chambers of commerce.

The Lakes PROUD campaign started around 21 months ago as the result of spontaneous conversations with local businesses and residents, John Landsburg, Lakes PROUD chair, told the assembled group. There was a personal, societal disconnect in the community, he said, which needed to be addressed.

Working with other area chambers and organizations, the Lakes PROUD idea took shape, Landsburg said. The group worked with St. Cloud State University students, who looked at other buy local campaigns to find what worked, and presented those findings, he said.

"That has helped guide us over the last number of months," Landsburg said. "So we're headed in the right direction and don't fall into some of the pitfalls that other communities around the country did."

Lakes PROUD then connected with the American Independent Business Alliance and received underwriting from American Express OPEN, which provided funding for the event, Landsburg said. The vision for Lakes PROUD is simple, he said.

"Change the economic culture of our regional community permanently," Landsburg said.

Local purchases matter greatly to the community and the region, Landsburg said. Part of the campaign's goal is to educate the community about this idea, he said.

"Businesses need to offer value, service and the best prices they can," Landsburg said. "So our consumers benefit as well."

More local buying in the Brainerd lakes region could result in an impact of $60 million, Landsburg said, without special governmental considerations.

"It keeps a bigger percentage of our money here improving our community," Landsburg said. "Instead of the money leaving to strengthen potentially other communities."

The keynote speaker at the event, Joe Grafton, with the American Independent Business Alliance, provided his input on the Lakes PROUD campaign, while also giving examples of other buy local campaigns that have worked throughout the country.

Grafton founded a similar buy local campaign in Somerville, Massachusetts about 10 years ago, he said, "so I come here today with a lot of mistakes in my past."

"So hopefully what I can do is share the best practices," Grafton said. "And also share the learning that I've come across in that time."

The power of a buy local campaign comes from the cumulative strength of its members, Grafton said, and the Lakes PROUD campaign "is starting off in a great place," with its five member chambers of commerce.

There are many things that divide people, Grafton said, but it's rare to find the person that doesn't support the local business community. Because of this, a buy local campaign unifies people, he said.

Nationally, buy local campaigns have been around for a little more than a decade, Grafton said. The hard work has already been done, he said, so Lakes PROUD needs to focus on taking what works and adapting it to the Brainerd lakes area.

"Look at something somebody else has done, and make it your own," Grafton said.

It's important for the Lakes PROUD campaign to reach tourists coming to the area, Grafton said. Most visitors are probably aware of buy local campaigns, he said, so there's "a huge opportunity to reinforce to folks who are visiting, that this is important."

Each buy local campaign uses a different definition of a local business, Grafton said. But personally, he said he defines it as "owners in the area, independently operated."

Grafton told the assembled group he loved the NP Event Space he was standing in, because it represents a movement toward refurbishing or reusing existing spaces. Instead of thinking about what new things can be built, he said, think about "what assets do we have, jewels, that we could be using to really grow and develop a new sector of the economy?"

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This story has been corrected Sept. 18 to reflect the event was funded by American Express OPEN, and not the American Independent Business Alliance, as originally stated.

SPENSER BICKETT may be reached at 218-855-5859 or spenser.bickett@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/spenserbickett.