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Buy Michigan Now founder talks ‘mitten state’ pride

By: Cortney Casey | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published April 6, 2011

 Lisa Diggs speaks to local businesspeople during the Sterling Heights Regional Chamber of Commerce & Industry’s annual Business Women’s Exchange Luncheon and Expo March 24. Diggs encouraged attendees to spread a positive message about what the state has to offer and make an effort to buy local.

Lisa Diggs speaks to local businesspeople during the Sterling Heights Regional Chamber of Commerce & Industry’s annual Business Women’s Exchange Luncheon and Expo March 24. Diggs encouraged attendees to spread a positive message about what the state has to offer and make an effort to buy local.

Photo by Edward Osinski

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STERLING HEIGHTS — If we want outsiders to look at Michigan differently, it has to start with the insiders.

So says Lisa Diggs, president of Catalyst Co. LLC and the founder of Buy Michigan Now, a campaign stressing the importance of patronizing local businesses and changing perceptions of the region and state.

Everywhere Detroiters turn, she said, they’re bombarded by reports of population decline and youth flight, stories of people losing their homes and jobs, images of abandoned buildings and rampant blight.

“Well, I don’t know about you, but while a lot of that is true, that is not the way I see the place that I live,” said Diggs. “If we’re going to change the image, we have to start changing how we think about it, and then we have to tell other people what those differences are.”

Instead of dwelling on the negative, it’s time to focus on the positive — and how everyone can contribute, she said.

Diggs delivered her message to a crowd of local businesspeople March 24 during the Sterling Heights Regional Chamber of Commerce & Industry’s annual Business Women’s Exchange Luncheon and Expo, held at the Best Western Sterling Inn Banquet and Conference Center.

She outlined the mission of the campaign she launched three years ago, which continues to build momentum.

“The Buy Michigan Now campaign … is a grass-roots initiative that is encouraging all of us to think about what we do and what we say and how it reflects on our state,” she said. “Because how it reflects on our state is exactly how it reflects on the future for each one of us and our families.

“Really, what we’re trying to do is get everybody to realize that it’s within our own control,” she added. “A lot of times, it doesn’t seem like it is, what our future’s going to be as cities … as a region, as a state. But it really is. You can make a difference by just thinking about where your money is going and what you’re doing with it and what businesses you support.”

Diggs has developed a pledge to which more than 5,600 individuals have committed: namely, to “play an active role in building a strong, vibrant and diverse Michigan economy” by speaking positively about the state, learning about what Michigan businesses have to offer and making a “concerted effort” to buy local.

According to Diggs, once $1 enters the local economy, it’s spent three to seven more times before leaving it. Out of each dollar spent at a local business, 73 cents stays close to home, versus 43 cents when that same dollar is spent at a national business, she said.

“If we all spent $10 more a week on Michigan products — that’s every household — we would collectively be putting $37 million a week back into Michigan’s economy,” she said.

Diggs said she’s found most people are willing and eager to help enact change; sometimes, they just need help figuring out how to do it.

To that end, the Buy Michigan Now website includes the Michigan Blue Pages, a
searchable database of businesses that operate entirely within the state, are headquartered here or are Michigan-owned franchises or affiliates. For companies, a basic listing is free; enhanced listings are available for a fee. There also are guides suggesting Michigan-made groceries and gifts.

The pinnacle of buying local, said Diggs, is what she’s dubbed the “three-mitten approach”: an item made in-state from Michigan ingredients or materials and purchased from a Michigan-based business.

But she acknowledged that shifting exclusively to Michigan-centric products is a near impossibility. It’s unreasonable, for example, to suggest someone should abandon pineapples merely because they’re grown outside the state, she said, but there are ways to make that purchase more Michigan-friendly, such as buying the fruit at a locally headquartered market.

“It’s a global economy; we recognize that,” she said. “The point is, there’s something all of us can do.”

Diggs encouraged attendees to participate in the third annual Buy Michigan Now Festival, set for Aug. 5-7 in downtown Northville. The event — which highlights Michigan companies and products with sidewalk sales, live music and children’s activities — draws more than 15,000 people from throughout the state, she said.

Besides touting the value of local patronage, “we’re trying to inspire the next generation and guide them toward careers that are going to be here and are growing and prospering, and we are trying to change the image of Detroit and the Detroit metropolitan area, and Michigan on a national and international level,” Diggs said of Buy Michigan Now. “So there’s a lot of things that we’re trying to do that go far beyond just starting out with buying things.”

Future plans include developing mobile apps highlighting Michigan products; holding social media tasting events, and more retailer and consumer shows and festivals; arranging increased resources for entrepreneurs; and ramping up sponsor-funded marketing, said Diggs.

Lisa Edwards, marketing director for the Sterling Heights chamber, said she was eager to host Diggs again after inviting her to talk at an Anchor Bay chamber event a few years back.

“She was a great, positive speaker, and many attendees had thanked me for a great presentation,” said Edwards. “I always wanted to bring her back. She has a very positive message about how each one of us can help our great state.”

For more information on Buy Michigan Now, visit www.buymichigannow.com. For more information on the chamber, visit www.shrcci.com.

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