It seems like a great idea, heading north or south on Highway 395 in search of that elusive item or bargain that you just don’t think you’ll find at home.
But somehow, the time and money required to make the trip are never factored into the final equation. If they were, that bargain might not seem like so much of a bargain.
And a recent study commissioned by the City of Bishop also shows how that decision to shop elsewhere has a significant economic impact on the welfare of one’s own community. Until now, that impact has never been quantified.
The Bishop City Council initiated the effort when it hired a consulting firm, The Retail Coach, to produce a “leakage” or “gap” report for the area. The report, which will be presented at Monday’s City Council meeting at 7 p.m. at Council Chambers on 301 W. Line St., and again on Tuesday at Whiskey Creek in Bishop at 4 p.m., is expected to diagnose why people are leaving town to do their shopping.
The impact of the report could lead to more people shopping locally, year round. This would mean that those weekday and shoulder season gaps that the Eastern Sierra is always trying to fill would be lessened.
“Our strategy should be to educate people about the benefits of investing in their community,” said Tawni Thomson, Executive Director of the Bishop Chamber of Commerce, who thinks that people don’t give a lot of thought to the process of what it means to shop locally so money stays within the community. “People leaving town to shop has always felt like a significant problem.” The study quantifies the seriousness of the problem by assigning a dollar amount that is “leaking” out of the local economy when people spend their money elsewhere.
The preliminary dollar amount identified is “in the millions,” according to Thomson, who hesitated to give a firm number since the report is in its early stages.
“We are hoping that the study creates productive dialogue about purchasing locally and inspires existing businesses to expand.” Thomson explained. Until now the issue has been a frustration not just for the business owners and the local consumers but also for the City and the County, which experience a loss in sales tax revenue every time people take their pocketbooks out of town. That loss in tax revenue means fewer services that could be available to locals.
As part of the analysis, a survey was made available to residents asking why they buy out of the area. According to Thomson, issues like parking, convenience, pricing, service, and simply not knowing the item was available locally because of poor marketing top the list of reasons why destination shopping is popular. Thomson believes the survey will be invaluable for local retailers who may be able to look at the results and “find some easy tweaks to sharpen their game.”
The study is just one component of economic development, according to Bishop local Allan Pietrasanta, who hopes that leakage study can be a jumping off point for creating an inventory of all of the resources available in the area so people know what they have before they go out of town. One such resource is the lesser known business of manufacturing and exporting goods from the area.
Pietrasanta has seen manufactured items flow in and out of the area for years. Once the owner of a sewing manufacturing business in Bishop, Pietrasanta claimed that even Schat’s bakery used to export their goods out of the area on trucks to Los Angeles.
Currently Pietrasanta works for J. Rousek’s Giggletime Toy Company, which has been in business in Bishop for 43 years and is one of the local companies exporting products. The company began by making candy and toys for dentists to hand out to kids who behaved well during checkups and has grown into a large line of children’s novelty toys and stationary, as well as the off-shoot Graphite Pen and Pencil Company, which is a little bit import, a little bit export.
The pencils arrive from China already shaped cylindrically and with the lead inside. Graphite takes these raw pencils and personalizes them any way the customer wants with foil designs, stamped logos, and ferrule (the metal piece that holds the eraser) and eraser tips before sending them back out again to clients around the country and all over the world.
Land is an issue when it comes to manufacturing since much of the open space in the Eastern Sierra is owned by the Department of Water and Power leaving it inaccessible to further development, but there are tools, like land exchanges, to work around these issues, Pietrasanta said.
Manufacturing is just one example of a healthy segment of economic development outside of the highly revered tourism, but it is an indicator of how much potential the area has if it can learn to tap into it. Currently the Sierra Business Council is also developing a report called the Eastern Sierra Economic Assessment, which looks at economic trends and opportunities in the Eastern Sierra, including a specific evaluation of the potential of mining. For more information on this report check out www.sbcouncil.org.