Food for thought: Wilmington College and the buy local question

Gus Sevastos
Editorials, Staff Writer

Starting a business is difficult, especially for entrepreneurs looking to start a business in Clinton County.

Chris Schock, Executive Director of the Clinton County Regional Planning Committee, said, “We [Clinton County] currently have the lowest percentage of locally owned businesses than we have in years past.”

Since the 2008 economic downturn and more specifically, the closure of DHL, the Wilmington economy has been hurting. Many jobs have been lost and the recovery has been very slow and painful for many businesses around town. In the past 5 years, many businesses have had to close their doors, the most recent victim being the South Street Coffee House.

With their recent closure, it begs the question: is there anything more that Wilmington College and its students could have done to prevent this? One argument that has been tossed around, both in the President’s Council and amongst the student body is that a change in student meal plans could possibly help support local businesses.

“This [meal plan change] is something that has been considered and discussed,” said Brad Mitchell, Vice President of Finance at Wilmington College. “Our main focus is to serve the students while also keeping in mind what is affordable, flexible, and quality.”

Mitchell also states that there is a quarterly evaluation of the student meal services to make sure that business is running smoothly but most importantly that student needs are being met.

Chris Schock, along with CCRPC hopes that Wilmington College continues to evaluate this change and will support it. Schock, along with Wilmington College and the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, was one of the founders of the Buy Local movement.

“The idea of buying locally,” said Schock, “sets a vision for the future.” Schock feels that by buying local, the people begin to invest in their community and everyone benefits.

A study done by JP Morgan and Chase on the effect of buying locally shows that if 5 – 10% more money is spent locally, the profit could be anywhere from 8 to 18 million dollars annually. If Wilmington College students were allowed to spend a portion of their meal plans in the county, even 20% of the current revenue, (about a quarter of a million dollars), that would put nearly half a million dollars into the city’s economy annually.

Schock argues that Wilmington “is a town with a college, but it’s not a college town.”

Neither the college nor the community businesses have seized all the possible opportunities out there. Though the Buy Local campaign has had a significant impact on Wilmington and Clinton County, the program’s main goal has to been improve the future. While much has been done, there is still always more to do.

CCRPC is also currently undertaking a project to create a guided walkway from the college to downtown.

Schock said, “This ensures that students always have a safe path to downtown Wilmington where they can explore our local businesses and the services they can offer them.”

Allowing students to use their meal plan in the community brings both business and exposure for both the restaurants and the college. Student ID cards could be changed into debit cards to allow them to function at the local restaurants that would support the new system.

“If this is something that the students want,” says Mitchell, “and they communicate that want to us [the college administration], then it is something we will definitely look into putting into action.”

With the pieces in place and both sides willing to work together on a new system that benefits all, the only question left to ask is what’s keeping this from happening?

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