Economic Sustainability

The number-one economic benefit of using a local approach is significant cost savings, which can be incurred for things like travel, shipping for materials, supplies, and out-of-state consultants or fabricators. While these costs may seem insignificant, they really add up, especially on large projects.

In our project in Madison, we were able to plug all of our cost savings on travel for architects and out-of-state consultants back into our modest budget.  Given that most capital projects spend significant amounts of their budget on costly out-of-area consultants, consultant travel and expenses, shipping and materials from out of the area, working locally saves significant amounts of moneuy that can be
funneled directly toward staffing, exhibits, and program offerings.

Economic Impact

While there is little to no data related to the economic benefits of a community whose museum is taking a local approach to project development and fabrication aside from MCM’s, there are numerous case studies from members of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies from other fields that indicate the economic benefits of an only local approach. These benefits are found in the areas of such as procurement, consumer behavior and local ownership. Tools for measuring economic impact are also available from the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies.

In Portland, Maine, the Maine Center for Economic Policy reported that on a dollar for dollar basis, the local economic impact of independently owned businesses in Portland is significantly greater than the national chains.  Every $100 spent at a locally owned business in Portland contributes an additional $58 to the local economy. By comparison, $100 spent at a national chain yields just $33 in local economic impact. In Austin, Texas, for every $100 spent at a national bookstore chain, the local economic impact was $13, while the same amount spent at a locally-based bookstore yielded $45, more than three times the local economic impact.

Madison Children’s Museum’s economic impact statement (PDF) highlights the financial benefits of our project on the community. Of the $2 million budgeted for exhibits, 11 percent was spent outside of our state on a designer and fabricator. Roughly another 5 percent was spent on supplies acquired from out of state, like hardware, milk paints, and fire-proofed thatching. The remaining 84 percent was spent locally on hiring fabricators, artists, supplies, and materials.

Sustainability Indicators Many resources exist to help your organization measure its move toward sustainability, both on a local and global scale. A very user-friendly tool can be found at Sustainable Measures, but a good overview of additional models can be found at The Sustainable Appalachian Communities Resource Guide.

Fundraising & Membership Advantages

While it may seem counterintuitive, there are significant funding advantages both locally and nationally for institutions that are committed to a local approach. Nationally, foundations are looking for noteworthy projects that have national implications, but are rooted in finding local solutions to local problems. The old “think globally, act locally” adage is apt here. Locally, philanthropists large and small feel compelled to give because of the local story, because of the significant involvement of local school children, local artists, advisers, and the commitment to working with local community members and to using local materials. People feel invested and proud of the community they live in, and want to be part of making it great. It is more important to connect with your local story than to bring in the national one that may have little relevance to your community’s needs and visions.

On the membership front, MCM’s number of member families grew from 1,900 at our old site to more than 7,000 during our first year at the new building. We believe this occured in large part because people wanted to join our community. While this has leveled off some as anticipated after our first year of operation, we are convinced that people want to be members not just to make use of the museum’s exhibits and programs, but because they are proud  of the institution that the community built and co-created.