Chris Fowler: Fueling the Shop Local Movement in CNY
Chris Fowler would like you to transform your thinking.
As a Central New York native, Chris Fowler, executive director of SyracuseFirst, knows the value of a healthy local community.
Chris grew up in Central New York, but moved away for college in Maryland to pursue a political career in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and eventually Austin, TX.
While in Austin, Fowler was exposed to a culture he had never experienced before. One where the community was civically and socially engaged with a real sense of identity, ownership and pride in their city which “turned out to be more of an inspiration than a destination for me,” he said. Unlike many of the cities Fowler had resided, he felt that Austin has learned to embrace its local community. This had created a strong sense of culture and community that stuck with Fowler and shifted his way of thinking.
Eventually, Fowler returned to his hometown of Syracuse, NY, and joined the state legislature. There, legislative conversations led to economic developments and how to retrain and attract talent to Central New York. During these conversations, Fowler would remember his transformative experience in Austin and other cities that were thinking differently: they were putting people in front of companies. These cities realized that peoples’ core interests and drive had changed throughout the years. People are no longer choosing where they live based on a job, but rather by the quality of life they would like to attain.
“Local communities matter, and having a connection and identity to it is a powerful experience,” said Fowler.
“People want an aspect of their lives to be personal, not just all work. It is their life, and they want to enjoy it. They want to be able to listen to live music, be able to meet people with similar interests. Also, they want to be able to go out and try new foods if they’re in the mood,” said Fowler. The cities that are able to capture this feeling and give people an area where they feel a sense of community, empowerment, opportunity, and risk have been the ones that continue to draw people.
Fowler wanted to bring that to Central New York. He felt he could help change the discussion on job creation, economic, and community development, and begin looking at how Austin became Austin. Through research, he learned that cities such as Austin began organically, but with a sense of purpose. He learned that Austin had done an economic impact study of their local culture and learned that for every dollar spent at a local business, four times of it stayed in the local economy – which helped fuel our modern day shop local movement.
Armed with information, Fowler began reaching out to local businesses whose business model fit this mindset. Businesses that sourced local foods, practiced sustainability, and placed more thought in their practices and how they contributed to society were on his list. These companies thought beyond their bottom dollar and examined how they could have an impact through developed relationships in the community.
Through such interactions SyracuseFirst, a nonprofit organization, was born in 2009 to help change and fuel Central New York’s shop local conversations. SyracuseFirst, at its most basic, is about encouraging people to shop local. However, at its core, it’s about something more transformative for the community, the economy, and the environment. Five years later, SyracuseFirst has grown to 365 businesses that are making a real impact in the local community.
“Local communities matter and having a connection and identity to it is a powerful experience,” said Fowler. “There is real transformative power in rethinking how people, businesses, and municipalities are engaged in creating the health of an economy.”
Two ways the CNY community can shop local and support SyracuseFirst is through the 5th Annual Buy Local Bash, a social shopping, and tasting event that highlights locally owned businesses in Central New York. This year’s Bash will be held on November 24th at the Landmark Theatre. By joining the 10% SHIFT campaign, you can learn how shifting just 10% of your spending on locally owned businesses can help create enormous local economic growth.