Model D-Open City January Speaker Series follow-up: Growing the local economy

Back with a new set of topics for a new year, the Model D Speaker Series began 2010 in a joint effort with Open City on Jan. 19 at Cliff Bell's. Panelists discussed "Growing a Stronger Local Economy," and focused on three different efforts to help cultivate a stronger and more vibrant local economy.

The panel included:
- Ingrid Ault, executive director, Think Local First, out of Ann Arbor 
- Mariah Cherem, metro Detroit community manager for
- Tawnya Clark and John Hughes, co-founders of TYCA Loyalty

While each endeavor had its unique attributes, the unifying themes were clearly communication and collaboration. There are tons of ways businesses can work together -- it's all about figuring out what you can bring to the table and what you'd like to take away.

Mariah Cherem of Yelp! spoke about the positive benefits of having a robust presence in the burgeoning world of social media. By taking advantage of the opportunities to communicate directly with customers, businesses can relate to people on a more personal level and can more effectively market their product. And with the rising popularity of the mobile internet, technology is increasingly playing a larger role in disseminating information to the public, which can both produce and consume content with a few clicks of their finger: "We all need to tell our own story. Yelp! lets us be the spokespeople for our city."

Ingrid Ault of Think Local First said that businesses need to be unified, organized and should see the big picture of their local communities. When they network together it gives them a powerful voice, and by shopping locally it allows for more money to stay in the area. Businesses should also be willing to make unlikely alliances and shouldn't be afraid to partner with people who may not appear to offer something in return. However, they should be careful to not allow the definition of "local" to be co-opted by just anyone: "Every community is different and unique, and must decide on its own what local means."

Tawnya Clark and John Hughes  of TYCA described their concept for a customer reward program that works like a CVS card but is used for local and independent retailers. By rewarding customers who shop locally, the TYCA (Thank You Come Again) Loyalty Program would also benefit the retailers involved as it would encourage existing customers to return and could potentially lead to new customers. They quoted research that found that people love to buy local -- 80% of people would prefer to buy local than from a chain.

Save the date: Next month's Speaker Series will be February 25th at the Majestic Theatre. The topic will be building leadership and embracing diversity in the region. More details to come in next week's issue.

Ian Perrotta is an editorial intern for Model D. Send feedback here, or comment on our Facebook page.

The Model D Speaker Series is sponsored by the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, Henry Ford Health Systems, Wayne State University and the Detroit Medical Center. Open City is a forum for aspiring business owners.