We Can All Support Our Local Economy With Live Local Inland Northwest

by Jessica Simpkins, MD

At the Huckleberry Press, we are passionate about highlighting stories of local people making a difference in our communities throughout the Inland Northwest. Spokane Independent Metro Business Alliance (SIMBA), a local nonprofit, is equally passionate about creating opportunities for local businesses in the Inland Northwest to thrive. According to their website, SIMBA is creating “a connected, interdependent, supportive, and collaborative local economy with shared opportunities, broadened ownership, and unique community character.”

We first featured SIMBA and its dynamo founder, Mariah McKay, in November of 2022. SIMBA is affiliated with the American Independent Business Alliance and the Local Business Institute, drawing on the expertise of these partners to bring resources and grassroots economic development best practices to our region. Mariah describes SIMBA as “a coalition of locally owned businesses that share values around reinvesting in our community to improve environmental sustainability, social equity, economic fairness, and really celebrate coming into our fullest potential.” After all, there’s only one Inland Northwest!

Mariah McKay

Mariah McKay, Founder and Director of Dynamism, SIMBA

SIMBA provides free, one-on-one technical assistance to businesses, startups, and entrepreneurs in Central and Eastern Washington with resources from the Department of Commerce’s Small Business Resilience Network program. This pro bono support comes in many forms, from helping new businesses decide what form of incorporation is best, how to acquire a business license, finding the right accountant, negotiating a commercial lease, accessing capital programs, navigating HR recruitment, receiving a marketing consultation or operational support, applying for government grants and contracts, and so much more.

But SIMBA doesn’t stop at supporting and organizing local businesses; they also organize local consumers to support their mission as well. Mariah and others at SIMBA believe that a local economy becomes stronger when community members form productive, mutually beneficial relationships with their locally-owned businesses. From this core belief, Live Local INW was born.

“Live Local was created to bring together people who care about the integral role independently owned businesses play in our communities and society at large. We provide tangible benefits to those local businesses by aligning local consumers who are eager to enrich their communities. And we create a compelling invitation for people who are curious to experience what living locally is all about,” Mariah explains.

Thanks to support from partners such as the Washington Department of Commerce, the City of Spokane, and Gesa Credit Union, businesses in Washington and throughout the Inland Northwest can be listed in the Live Local INW online Directory and Marketplace for free, even if they don’t have their own website. “Google is great, but small businesses that don’t have an Internet presence are very difficult to find and therefore often struggle to attract new consumers. We don’t want that to be a barrier to our regional entrepreneurs getting discovered,” Mariah shares.

On the LiveLocalINW.com Marketplace, local businesses can feature an unlimited number of products, services, or deals without cost to them. “By registering with Live Local INW, businesses enjoy free exposure to a base of consumers who want to spend money locally and help make our economy more abundant for their neighbors. This is especially helpful for new small businesses who are trying to connect with consumers,” Mariah explains.

To date, over 730 local businesses are listed in the Live Local Directory, and each has the ability to list their products and services for consumers to browse on the Live Local Marketplace. SIMBA has a goal of enrolling several hundred more businesses in the campaign as they engage people in the Central and Northeastern Washington sub-markets of the Inland Northwest.

Additionally, Live Local INW is just about to pilot a new local loyalty rewards payment application called Local Dollars. SIMBA has negotiated with The Local Frequency in order to rollout an app that will incentivize local consumers to spend their money with locally-owned businesses. “Because we are a nonprofit organization, SIMBA will be able to provide very competitive pricing on market-rate payment processing fees for local small businesses, and through a partnership with a local financial institution, we plan to create a way for customers to pay their favorite local businesses digitally while eliminating costly credit card processing fees,” Mariah shares.

“For example, Main Market Co-op has reported losses of $60,000 per year in combined processing and credit card fees. The Grain Shed calculated these expenses to add up to approximately $30,000 per year. When local businesses add this payment option for local consumers to use, not only will they be able to keep more of the money they earn, but they will also be able to provide loyalty rewards for the consumers that support them. While businesses can continue to offer their own individualized reward programs, they can also offer consumers 1% cash back for using this payment system, for example. The money the consumers have in their app and the rewards they earn will be able to be used with any business in the network,” Mariah elaborates.

To further incentivize local businesses to get on board with Live Local INW, Central and Eastern Washington-based businesses that meet certain criteria can apply for a marketing grant right now, between April 17th- April 28th. Mariah shares more of the details: “We are inviting underserved and underrepresented small business owners to apply for and use this marketing grant money to co-promote the Live Local campaign and the Local Dollars pilot application. Businesses can ask for grant money that is used to train their staff on the new payment app, to purchase products they will offer to consumers for free as an incentive to pay for goods or services with Local Dollars, and/or for a co-branded local newspaper ad to advertise the product special that is sponsored by the Live Local campaign.”

For more details about the grant program, visit www.livelocalinw.com/grants and feel free to email grants@spokaneindependent.org if you have an idea for what you’d like to use the marketing grant money for but want to confirm your eligibility. If you’re a local consumer, be sure to check out the great directory of diverse local businesses here in the Inland Northwest at www.livelocalinw.com and browse the Marketplace for local goods, services, and great deals. In the next few weeks, campaign partners expect to be able to offer an incentive where the first 140 consumers who download The Local Frequency app onto their phones and load $100 or more will receive a credit of $50 that can be used with any local businesses participating in the pilot.

Lastly, if you’re interested in supporting SIMBA or want to take advantage of their free technical assistance, be sure to visit spokaneindependent.org for opportunities to become a member, donate money, or become a volunteer. Follow them on Facebook and Instagram @spokaneindepedent and on Twitter @spokaneIMBA.