Import Replacement – Ways to strengthen local economies
Steve Oakes had no idea he was contributing to strategic import replacement when he opened Green Apple Linen in Pittsfield. Instead, the real estate entrepreneur was intrigued by a specific business opportunity that, in a way, fell into his lap. He was attending a community development meeting in Lenox when a new executive at Cranwell, a resort that washes its own linens, expressed interest in getting out of the laundry business. Only half-joking, Oakes offered to do their laundry. “The numbers proved that the quantity of linens Cranwell was washing would be a good foundation for a new business,” Oakes says.
With partner Tim Burke, Oakes completed a market analysis that showed more than local 80 hotels wash their linens in-house or sent them out. “It seemed like an opportunity for us to be the hometown linen service,” he says. Eight months on, Green Apple Linen secured nine clients.
Import replacement, a concept invented by author/urban activist Jane Jacobs, strengthens local economies by substituting imported goods and services with ones that are locally produced. This is an economic development model that three Berkshire organizations want to pursue more tactically. The Community Development Corporation of South Berkshire (CDCSB), BerkShares, and Berkshire Community Land Trust have received a $10,000 grant from the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation to encourage the development of import replacement businesses in South County. Leaders in advanced manufacturing, agriculture, and healthcare will participate in workshops to develop ideas, followed by feasibility and planning meetings with community stakeholders to assist in implementing those ideas.
The program is a continuation of BerkShares’ Community Supported Industry initiative. “By concentrating on sectors, the ideas that come out of that will be reality-based enough that, with facilitation, there will be some follow-through,” says Tim Geller, CDCSB executive director and a BerkShares board member.