I believe it's within our power to reinvigorate our regional economy by investing in the impact of "Buy Local." Our Twin Cities have spent recent decades chasing the magic bullet of economic development.

But cities like Austin, Texas, have discovered that "keeping Austin weird," or investing in the entrepreneurs and businesses that can't be found anywhere else, is the key to strong and prosperous economic development. It has made Austin a national destination. Local businesses create more jobs and generate more money for the local economy than national chains.

Local businesses recycle, adapt and preserve existing architectural infrastructure, bringing new life to great old buildings. There is no better example than St. Paul's Ward 6 Food & Drink, which salvaged a neighborhood landmark and became a favorite Twin Cities gastro-pub. Along with Plaza Del Sol, Yarusso's Italian Restaurant, Morelli's Market and Bymore Mercado, it helped launch the rebirth of Payne Avenue. Flat Earth Brewery made its home in the original Hamm's Brew House, now among St. Paul's hottest venues for business expansion and development.

In St. Paul we're talking about lightening the red tape in neighborhood commercial districts. In modern city-building jargon, in these "pink zones," city staffs are empowered to ease up on confusing and conflicting regulations, and clear a path to help businesses thrive and grow.

Through the city's partnerships with diverse nonprofit community developers, the city staff is poised to offer tailored technical and financial assistance to businesses bubbling up in fast-growing multicultural neighborhoods. One such partner, St. Paul's East Side Enterprise Center, is a catalyst for business start-up and expansion that is unique, culturally distinctive, locally owned and operated.

The Metro Independent Business Alliance (MetroIBA - Buy Local Twin Cities) offers a roadmap for our cities, encouraging the formation of a small business resource office, with access to business software, services and connections. MetroIBA urges us to expand our fiber optic network to provide the highest speed broadband to keep our smallest independents competitive, and suggests ways to help local businesses buy their buildings so that they're not priced out of neighborhoods they helped to make successful.

When I grew up in Brockton, Massachusetts, in the 1960s, Main Street was a vibrant mix of independent, locally owned retail that included the Swedish Coffee Cup, White's Delicatessen and George's Italian Café. They were independent and locally owned by people who cared about and invested in our local community.

In the 1970s, Brockton's vibrant and historic Main Street fell to a "modern" indoor shopping mall, replacing our unique retailers with national chains. With the wisdom of hindsight, we can seize this opportunity to reinvest in what made our country great: local initiative, independence and our people's boundless entrepreneurial spirit.

Jane Prince is an attorney, a St. Paul city council member and a citizen member of MetroIBA. www.buylocaltwincities.com

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