VIDEO: Rooting local consumers for Mower County’s growth

Published 5:38 pm Thursday, July 31, 2008

Austin alone lost $15.54 million or 12.35 percent of its taxable sales from 2003 to 2006. Forty-three percent of retail sales are lost to other communities, the equivalent of 16,000 residents in the trade area.

“It’s been a long-standing problem,” said Sandy Forstner, executive director of the Austin Area Chamber of Commerce.

After recognizing the loss of retail sales in Mower County to other communities while utilizing University of Minnesota research data, the Chamber has decided to do something about it rather than wallow in the dismal outlook surrounding the situation.

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The “Buy Mower/Grow Mower” campaign has been in the works for almost a year, and is now being thrust into the public to test how consumers will respond to their request they return 10 percent of their usual out-of-town sales back into the county. According to Chamber members, if the program’s goal comes to fruition, $20 million will be pumped back into Mower County.

“Obviously we’re not going to put a fence around Austin,” Forstner said during a press conference Thursday at Town Center. “Just take 10 percent of that money and shift it back to Mower County businesses.”

The U of M study assessed income, population and spending habits compared to the state average; the county’s “pull factor” — the per capita sales divided by the state per capita sales — was less than half the state average, Forstner said.

“The bottom line is the quality of life issue,” Forstner said. “More services, more products, more value.

“For every local purchase, there is indeed a local purpose,” he said, citing the campaign’s theme.

The Chamber plans to promote their campaign through the Internet, points of sale and major media advertising with a sales receipt image along with its theme. Those who pledge will be eligible for retail prizes, cash drawings and special offers.

“We’re not going to monitor whether or not you will follow through with your pledge,” Forstner said.

He explained that keeping dollars in the community not only puts money in retailers’ pockets, but funnels it into other resources as well, like the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center and the Paramount Theatre.

“Leaving the community costs you money,” said Larry Dolphin, director of the nature center, at the press conference. “We need to rethink how we’re going to live.”

Chamber president and Culver’s owner Jeff Baldus said he has taken the “Grow Mower” campaign “to heart.”

“We know every penny can’t be spent in Austin — it’s just the nature of the beast,” he said. “What we’re really asking is that before they make these everyday purchases out of town, they look at buying in town.”

The Chamber will be promoting the campaign at the Mower County Fair.

For more information or to pledge, visit