Online sales will continue to conflict with local first ambitions

Our community is not the only one in the nation to emphasize “shop local” in terms of marketing and message to the public. It’s a commonplace initiative for many places intended to support local shopping and local businesses.

However, when it comes to major purchases, and in particular major purchases by government entities, there is an inevitable conflict.

Yes, local government is right to support the idea of local purchasing. It inspires consumers to do the same and empowers local retailers. Local purchasing enhances the local business community, and thus supports local employment and the local tax bases.

On the other hand, many taxpayers want to see local government make the least expensive purchasing decisions when it comes to necessary expenses.

Those two imperatives often conflict, as the Ward County Commission discussed this week as it debated opening a basic Amazon account.

These are the defining lines of the debate over buying local and buying from elsewhere when the latter offers better value to taxpayers.

It’s not an easy debate.

On one hand, an imperative to local government should be to provide the best value to taxpayers. On the other hand, supporting local purveyors provides longer-term benefits to the community, even if taxpayers might not be able to see those advantages immediately.

Ward County isn’t the only government entity struggling with this conflict. The City of Minot has debated awarding advantages to local business entities bidding for contracts. Other communities have as well.

It is no easy situation, nor one that is going to go away in the forseeable future. The whole business model of many online retailers is to offer discounted prices because of the lack of overhead. That makes it difficult for local retailers – who do have such expenses – to compete.

Minot Daily News advises government bodies struggling with the issue to compare overall economic advantages, including the impact of local purchasing. Perhaps local taxpayers should even be asked to weigh in on the issue.

Such a comparison only seems fair and equitable to the community. Armed with adequate information, local officials and local taxpayers can best make their opinions heard.