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Hamilton business owners urge county to buy local

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HAMILTON, Mont. - At the urging of Hamilton small business owners, Ravalli County commissioners have agreed to work on a policy to buy local products for county use whenever possible.

Chapter One Book Store co-owner Shawn Wathen asked for financial information from the county and found it bought more than $15,000 in goods from Amazon last year.

Wathen said that money flows out of the county.

"That's taxpayer money that just goes away," he said.

But Wathen said for every $100 spent with local business, $50 to $68 is channeled back into the community.

"When communities are economically vibrant," he said, "property values go up, and county revenues go up. Those dollars recirculate and contribute to the economic vitality of the county."

Business owners said, if given the chance, they can often compete in price, availability and convenience.

With his family, Al Mitchell owns and operates The Paper Clip in downtown Hamilton. The Mitchells have been a visible part of downtown business for generations.

Mitchell said his business, as well as other small independent operations, support a large part of the tax base, contribute to schools, make donations to nonprofits and serve on community boards and councils.

"It was our desire to raise our children in this beautiful valley," he said, "and to work hard and to give back to the community that gave us so much when we were growing up here."

But he said small businesses are struggling. "The breaking point for many local businesses," he said, "is fast approaching."

"We're not looking for a handout," he said. "We're not looking for a donation. We're simply asking that you do business with us as tax-paying, invested, caring neighbors. "

Mitchell told commissioners that "Main Streets up and down the valley need and depend on you for their existence. He said Amazon and big box stores do not.

The board said it will work to establish a "buy local" policy.

Commissioner Chris Hoffman said the business owners request was "fair and made sense."

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Commissioner Doug Schallenberger said if buying local is convenient, and the price is right, he sees no reason why the county should not.

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