“Our mission is to educate, promote, and collaborate to provide a sustainable local economy,” says Colin Murray, executive director of Dane Buy Local, headquartered on Madison’s west side and one of three buy local organizations in Wisconsin. “We put a lot of emphasis working with our members and other similar organizations to provide economic development.”

Dane Buy Local is not only the largest buy local organization in the state, but in the entire United States. Founded in 2004, by Ricky Brooks and Josie Pradella, it serves primarily to connect local organizations to the outside community. In total, Dane Buy Local is comprised of more than 800 members, approximately 65 percent of which are small businesses that include areas like finance, legal, media, and home services.

Unfortunately, only 5-10 percent of those small businesses are minority-owned. And with Madison becoming more diverse every day, Murray would like for the percentage to reflect these changing demographics. According to the latest census data around 25 percent of Madison is comprised of people of color or mixed heritage. This is in comparison to 16 percent from the 2000 census.

“When I looked at our membership a couple of years ago after one of our breakfast events, I was astounded by how very, very white it was,” Murray remembers. “And that bothered me.”
Murray would also like to raise awareness of the particular struggles that minority businesses face. According to 2010 statistics from the Minority Business Development Agency, 42 percent of minority businesses in the United States are likely to be denied a loan compared to 16 percent of non-minority businesses. Minority business receive only $149,000 in an average loan money compared to $310,000 for non-minority businesses.

“We formed a Diversity Committee with the goal of developing local businesses led by people of color,” Murray says, “that would hopefully see some benefit to joining Dane Buy Local and working along other businesses.”

Composed of eight members including chairperson Chair Kent Yan of Plato Commercial Real Estate, LLC, the Diversity Committee serves to raise awareness on racial issues and to assist Dane Buy Local in supporting local minority businesses. Recently, in 2014, the committee held a seminar on racial disparities with the Latino Chamber of Commerce, the Urban League of Greater Madison Young Professionals (ULGMYP), and the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation (WWBIC) that was held to wide acclaim and started the “Step Up” series. Inspired by Alvarado Real Estate’s Sara Alvarado, “Step Up” works to discuss diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Dane Buy Local has also inspired a program with the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) that places students in an internship where they learn the procedures of running a business.

Dane Buy Local Executive Director Colin Murray surrounded by staff members (clockwise) Jeanne Engle, and Barb Cheron-Peterson
Dane Buy Local Executive Director Colin Murray surrounded by staff members (clockwise)Lark Gibson, Jeanne Engle, and
Barb Cheron-Peterson

Despite the inroads that Dane Buy Local has created, it can still be a struggle for minority businesses and all business, for that matter, to compete with corporate giants like Wal-Mart and Target. “Our local businesses don’t have the employee support that large corporations have,” Murray says. “Their owners wear the hat of CEO, CFO, advertiser, and marketing department.”

This is where organizations like Dane Buy Local are imperative. But Murray stresses that the community can also help local businesses thrive beyond just buying their products. “The first step is to obviously be consistent in your support of local businesses,” Murray says. “In this digital age, it’s important to spread positive testimonials and share info on social media.”

And if you own a small business you can support, too, by partaking in Dane Buy Local’s September Membership Blitz. “This is the third year that we’ve done the blitz and for each new member that joins we will provide a complimentary membership to a minority-owned business or a start-up business in the Dane County area,” Murray says. “This was one of the ideas that came out of our Diversity Committee. We’re hoping to encourage minority businesses to see some of the benefits of the organization … businesses that may have never joined us otherwise.”

If we all pitch in and support local businesses, Murray believes the returns will be huge. Not only will we strengthen the local economy but we will raise the economic power of everyone, he believes. This is in addition to building community while simultaneously shaping its character. “It’s important to support our local businesses because if we don’t, they will disappear,” Murray says. “It really provides for the flavor of what makes us unique in Dane County. You’ve seen where national stores have moved in to neighborhoods and completely changed the flavor or the neighborhood. We want to keep things unique to Madison and Dane County and preserve some of these great local small businesses here.”

If you are looking to become a member of Dane Buy Local the organization has plenty of incentives for local business. In addition to the membership blitz in September the organization also holds a morning breakfast networking event in where local business owners commune together to share ideas. The next breakfast meeting will be taking place on Tuesday, September 8. Membership dues are also kept low for new members due to the many costs owners are already burdened with.

For any suggestions or inquiries contact Dane Buy Local at (608) 729 7346 or at [email protected]