By Richard Whitby
The Daily Star
---- — A campaign to persuade local shoppers to buy local goods and local vendors took shape Wednesday during a stakeholders meeting in Milford called by the Otsego County Chamber and the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce.
“We need to let people know what we have,” Patricia Szarpa, executive director of the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce, said in her opening remarks.
The business community cannot “assume people know what our merchants have,” she added.
The Local First! campaign would begin May 1 and continue for two to three years, said Barbara Ann Heegan, director of the Otsego County Chamber. She said the campaign’s progress would be assessed after the first six months.
The meeting brought together marketing, advertising and business representatives — stakeholders in the promotion of Otsego County businesses and products.
The effort is a rare collaboration between the two chambers, several participants said. It grew from an ad hoc committee that started in Cooperstown, Szarpa said, and gradually brought in members from other parts of the county.
“There has been a lot of success in working with our local foods,” Szarpa said, citing an industry in which a buy-local campaign has worked well.
Szarpa said the effort was not an attempt to usurp big-box stores or Internet vendors, but rather an attempt to persuade Otsego County residents and visitors to “think local first.”
Heegan suggested that the Oneonta college population, in particular, could be targeted.
“We want to make sure that our students … understand the value of all the stores that are not only in Oneonta, but in Cooperstown.”
Public transportation would play a role in getting students who don’t have cars to Cooperstown, she added.
Psalm Wyckoff of the county Planning Department, which oversees the Otsego Express bus system, agreed.
“People don’t necessarily know what public transportation is available to them,” she said.
Wyckoff said the bus route that runs along state Route 28 between Oneonta and Cooperstown is heavily used for some tasks, such a medical trips, but is underutilized by shoppers.
She said planners are looking at several ways to address that issue, including a brochure that lists shops within walking distance of bus stops along the route and listing the buses to which riders can transfer within the system.
Wyckoff also suggested that Local First! use college media to advertise shops and events outside the Oneonta area coupled with the availability of public transportation.
The campaign would employ all of the usual media to advertise, such as print, television and radio ads and social media, but the stakeholders heard Wednesday about a new medium, digital signage, from Leonard Carson Jr. of DC Marketing, which operates a digital billboard on the westbound side of Interstate 88 and at 189 Main St., both in Oneonta.
“The nice thing about the digital (billboard) is its flexibility,” Carson said. “It’s truly fluid. Out software can stream live data, so if a business or an organization has an event that’s going on, we can include that right in the ad as it’s cycling through.”
Carson said that about 32,000 people pass the I-88 site daily, and that the software allows advertisers to offer eight to 10 different messages at a time.
Amy Burnsworth of Time-Warner, the cable TV provider for much of the county, said it’s running buy-local commercial patterned after an similar campaign in Kentucky.
Buy-local initiatives are already under nationwide, including one in Albany, Rensselaer, Schenectady and Saratoga counties.
Proponents say buying from local vendors is beneficial in numerous ways, such as keeping money circulating in the local economy. Because of that, they say, such spending stimulates job growth. The Otsego stakeholders also pointed out the buying locally boosts the county’s sales tax revenue.