Local businesses as a way to a shared future?

Found this interesting piece in today’s Newsletter by the Chairman of the Antrim Road Traders Association, Paul Carlin who has been writing about his experiences as a businessman in Northern Ireland. Carlin makes some interesting points about how local businesses can play a direct role in improving within communities through creating jobs and getting people from both sides to interact with one another.

He ends with an optimistic vision for the future which I find a bit refreshing as sometimes (I include me in this) people can be a bit too negative about where we live.

Could this be a possible way to end our economic and societal woes? Local community acitvisim led by smaller businesses. Here is the piece which I thought was worth quoting in full.

In today’s political climate I hear a lot of David Cameron’s ‘big society’, where individuals are supposed to pull together and improve their own communities. In north Belfast there is something like this happening among local traders. Tired of not yielding the benefits from tourism and being on a major route into the city centre we decided to take action and improve the lot of our own community.

In 2012 we founded the Antrim Road Trading Association, whose sole purpose is the promotion and improvement of our local area. Currently we represent over 30 local businesses and have hosted events that have boosted local landmarks like Belfast Castle.

The enhanced cooperation that comes from organisations like this has seen some remarkable benefits for businesses in north Belfast. We have been able to set up training courses that have helped with development and marketing issues. This has helped businesses re-think and re-evaluate some of their approaches.

In addition to this, there has also been a concerted effort towards getting more from our local politicians. Through establishing key relationships with figures across political parties on Belfast City Council we have been able to gain support for some of our key plans and initiatives. This is a clear signal to everyone that political action and dialogue can achieve results for a place like north Belfast.

However, the real benefit of this type of community activism is that, like most small businesses, we are the people who create opportunity for all across our society. In my own business, I am employing local people and giving them the skills to further their own careers. I am not exceptional in this regard, as many of my colleagues are doing exactly the same thing. While Stormont places a greater emphasis on larger corporations, we should always keep in mind that many opportunities for our young people are being created by small businesses across the Province.

All of this we have done ourselves. Why, you might ask? Because we believe that there is a better future out there waiting to be seized and leaving this to politicians alone is not enough. Business can be a key part of breaking down barriers in our society. We can use the drive for employment as a tool to get people from both communities to interact with one another. With more support and creative thinking, we can get more associations like this set up across Northern Ireland.

The experience that I have had with this project has been inspirational. Often in this place, we tend to look at the negatives and forget the positives in our society. This experience over the last year has taught me that there is a bright future on the horizon and it is up to this same type of community activism to help us get there.

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  • Old Mortality

    Could this be a possible way to end our economic and societal woes? Local community acitvisim led by smaller businesses.

    Unfortunately not, David. Mr Carlin may be a very good hairdresser but unless people fly in to avail of his services, his business is of limited value to NI as a whole. However, to the extent that he attracts custom from outside North Belfast, his business may be a net economic benefit to the area.
    Our economy is often caricatured as one half selling things to the other half who are living off the state. Hairdressers and other retail businesses tend to fall into that category.
    That’s also the reason why fanciful estimates of losses to the economy from flag protests were so risible. Unless exporting businesses like Bombardier lost production as a result, there was no real loss to the ecomomy.

  • David McCann

    I think Paul’s point is when local businesses act together can these problems be solved. So it’s not just uni-laterally trying to do this rather coming together.

  • cynic2

    “Unless exporting businesses like Bombardier lost production as a result, there was no real loss to the ecomomy.”

    I am sorry but that is simply not true. You forget the economic multiplier effect of people spending on local goods and services that support local jobs. Profits not made were also not available for reinvestment to expand trade. You also ignore the cases where local businesses went bust as a a result of the downturn in business associate with the flegs.

  • Old Mortality

    Cynic2
    I’m not suggesting that individual businesses did not suffer losses but they would all have been retail. If people decided to shop elsewhere, Spending was either diverted, so Belfast’s loss was Sprucefield’s gain, or simply deferred.
    The multiplier effect is pretty feeble when you ask yourself honestly what proportion of that spending would have been on goods produced in NI.
    Finally, a closed shop or restaurant is no loss to the economy as a whole unless it attracted custom from outside NI.
    I’m afraid your argument seems to be based on the facile premise that if we all spend enough money our economy will be just grand.

  • Old Mortality

    David
    I’m not denying that businesses can do a lot to promote communal harmony. Retailers especially have every incentive to do so. What rational trader would want to alienate a large proportion of potential customers?

  • cynic2

    “they would all have been retail.”

    Sorry but you are wrong. What about those whose staff couldn’t get home and left early or were delayed getting in? What about the disruption to transport and staff en route to jobs? Those who provdied servcies and supplies to pubs and restaurants thatw ere clsoed or later clsoed down . It hit many sectors

  • aquifer

    Small businesses create lots of jobs, and people are usually prepared to work together even when they live apart in sectarian enclaves, so this is important.

    Open small retail businesses also create safer streets, as they have a natural interest in suppressing criminality and anti-social behaviour.

    With their more informal employment practices, they can also give first starts to local people who might never get through the fair but bureaucratic and intimidating recruitment processes of the big corporations.

    Maybe we need more nurseries for such businesses, such as covered public markets open in the evenings when those with jobs can spend money.

  • Old Mortality

    Cynic 2

    Try to understand the distinction between the economy of central Belfast and NI as a whole and then ask yourself whether the flags dispute caused any fall in exports or rise in imports (of services as well as goods). I’m sure that an electrical retailer in Belfast might bemoan the number of Chinese-made TVs that he failed to sell but that’s no loss to anybody else.Either they failed to buy a Chinese-made TV altogether, which is the best outcome, or they bought it elsewhere, in which case their desired consumption was not frustrated.
    Do you really think that civil servants going home early, (which they usually do not need much encouragement to do) is damaging to the economy?

  • cynic2

    Old Mortality

    I am sorry but try and consider some basic economics. Money does not go round once in the economy. It goes around several times You are also locked in your own analysis about the supplies of Chinese TVs.It was also not just central Belfast that was disrupted, Roads were blocked all over Belfast at different times.

    In my company we estimate that the flegs dispute cost us over £40k in lost business and £10k in direct additional costs. Do take a wider view

  • FuturePhysicist

    Could this be a possible way to end our economic and societal woes? Local community acitvisim led by smaller businesses.

    Unfortunately not, David. Mr Carlin may be a very good hairdresser but unless people fly in to avail of his services, his business is of limited value to NI as a whole. However, to the extent that he attracts custom from outside North Belfast, his business may be a net economic benefit to the area.
    Our economy is often caricatured as one half selling things to the other half who are living off the state. Hairdressers and other retail businesses tend to fall into that category.
    That’s also the reason why fanciful estimates of losses to the economy from flag protests were so risible. Unless exporting businesses like Bombardier lost production as a result, there was no real loss to the ecomomy.

    As a minor Keynesian, the money flow in the domestic economy can drive people to do more with less. Money doesn’t necessarily exhaust upon usage, therefore two people could exchange the same £20 note several times so that both sides of the transaction get the same services, twenty times, maybe twenty times twenty times over. It is a concept called money liquidity, deep down it comes down to honourable custom and honourable supply. The farmer and the mechanic arrangement, where the farmer provides the mechanic with food and the mechanic supplies the farmer with machinery. The money is actually redundant if the trust is there.

    I don’t buy (pardon the pun) that domestic economy and trade are mutually exclusive. Certainly I know first hand that small engineering firms do help the larger engineers as contracters. You probably aren’t going to get “For want of a good hairdresser” in the engineering industry, but could you honestly say that it’s a non-issue there or for other industries? Could the film and television industry need a good hairdresser, might it be a service a manager of a large company could see as a breaking point or a sticking point to him or her staying here? Could there be a second order effect, could someone’s haircut give themselves the confidence to be a better engineer. Can any economists really estimate intangibles like that?

    There is also a third issue that probably does tie into the socioeconomics around the flag protesters. The decline of manufacturing keeps labour away from the supply line and leaves a legacy issue. Employment provides people with self-worth, a reason to live and reduces the tax burden and crime. Unemployment does the opposite. Some communities are in a state of recession, many others are in a state of Depression. The flag protests are effectively a means of drawing attention to that Depression as it is about national solidarity with what they consider their government in London.

    Business does need to find the seeds of industry, and I have no doubt that business could change people’s resilence from being worried about being undermined in their nation, to a sense of pride of doing something for that nation.

    Very few people would have heard about the business Solvay and Crie, a Belgain company that was one of the biggest soda ash producers in the world before the War. This company though after the war, brought many of the biggest names in Science together to pave the way for both Quantum Mechanics and Relativity, modernising every field of science because of it, even though it needed people to think about nature’s limitations. It brought Nazi scientists like Stark into the same room as Albert Einstine. It knew that science and engineering could literally and metaphorically build bridges and tackle our problems.

    Without Solvay, the world would still be in Depression, continously fighting until the last drop of oil, coal and gas was spent fighting for the last drop of oil, coal and gas. Work does set people free from that survivalist mentality, it allows people to make something big out of something very little, rather than asking for the world.

  • Old Mortality

    Cynic 2
    I’d be interested to know the nature of your company’s business before considering the validity of your figures.
    I only used the flags dispute to illustrate the simplistic assumptions that often lie behind these figures and which are rarely challenged by our generally witless media.
    The idea that shops and pubs not selling anything must be bad for the economy is similar to the sort of guff peddled by NIPSA and their ilk that failing to increase pay in the public sector damages the whole economy because it reduces spending in the shops.

  • Old Mortality

    Future Physicist
    Your argument is so deeply obscured that it overcomes my patience. However, it should be Solvay and C(ompagn)ie although just calling it Solvay would have been sufficient don’t you think?

  • FuturePhysicist

    Well if we want to be that accurate Solvay et Compagnie.

  • aquifer

    “Try to understand the distinction between the economy of central Belfast and NI as a whole and then ask yourself whether the flags dispute caused any fall in exports or rise in imports (of services as well as goods).”

    OK

    There is a shortage of skilled labour here, a critical element of production for export. They are less likely to come, or to stay, with paramilitary gangs stopping traffic and attacking the police.

    Anything else you need to know?

  • Old Mortality

    Aquifer
    I won’t pretend to understand the possible psychological impact on skilled workers. Presumably, that will become apparent in due course. Do you think that the loss estimates included a net present value calculation of this effect?