Supporting local business is the right thing to do, when you can. By giving back to your local economy, you’re creating jobs that ultimately make yours a little safer–and perhaps even more remunerative. It’s just common sense to put money back into the local economy whenever possible.
While buying local is the right thing to do, it’s not always prudent. Sometimes the product/service simply isn’t available locally. Sometimes prices from an out-of-town vendor are much lower than what’s available from local providers. And sometimes the quality is simply better than what you could access locally. All of those are legitimate reasons to look elsewhere.
For public entities, the Buy Local bar is set even higher. After all, if you can’t support those who grow your tax base, it’s hard to argue for higher taxes. If you wave the banner for more job creation in your community, it’s contradictory to send jobs elsewhere. Even if all you do is a little cheerleading for the home team, it becomes problematic when you’re working even harder behind the scenes on behalf of the home team’s competitors.
With all of this in mind, the City of Fort Wayne’s decision to award a $72,000 contract to Chicago’s Carolyn Grisko & Associates deserves some serious scrutiny. There’s a lot of misinformation out there about this issue, but one thing can’t be denied: the City of Fort Wayne—a public entity—chose to overlook local vendors and award the contract to an out-of-town vendor. Let’s take a look, then, at whether the City’s contract with Grisko meets any of the criteria for looking beyond local service providers:
– Is the product/service available locally? Deputy Mayor Beth Malloy says no. But she’s wrong–and it sounds like she didn’t even ask. I’ve lived in Fort Wayne for quite awhile, and I have a lot of Fort Wayne friends in communication, social media, public relations, and marketing strategy. Not one of them was given the chance—and not one knows anyone who was given the chance—to bid on this contract. If she had done due diligence, she would have discovered that a wide variety of Fort Wayne companies provide the services outlined in the City’s purchase order with Grisko.
– Is the cost of the product/service prohibitively higher from local vendors? No. In fact, the only number that seems cost prohibitive is the one in the agreement with Grisko. (And City Council members Tom Smith and Liz Brown are right to question whether it was intentional that the contract fell just short of the threshold that would have led to more scrutiny.)
– Is the quality of the product/service appreciably higher from the out of town vendor? I don’t know much about Grisko’s qualifications/skills, but I do know this: Fort Wayne has some incredibly talented people when it comes to communication, public relations, and social media strategy. The real question, however, is…
– Does any likely difference in quality of service warrant the difference in cost given the PR fallout that comes with hiring the out of town vendor? Absolutely not. But part of the reason why the City keeps making mistakes like this is that it desperately needs communication expertise. After all, hiring a communication consultant should help you avoid PR disasters, not create them. The City of Fort Wayne would do well, however, to start looking for help closer to home.
It’s worth asking whether this is a good use of public funds. It’s worth asking what Grisko will be doing in exchange for those funds. And it’s worth asking why the City of Fort Wayne didn’t look to Fort Wayne vendors for these services–and what message that sends to other businesses considering local vendors. But most of all, it’s worth asking why we should support an administration that shows such little regard for supporting its own.