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Strengthening local economy with a card

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By Kirsten Laskey

There is a new program in town bringing benefits to local nonprofits, businesses and consumers through a consumer card.The Locals Care Card program offers shoppers community or reward points when they shop at designated businesses. Every 1,000 points is converted into a $10 credit at qualifying businesses.Additionally, consumers can select a non-profit organization to receive a percentage of their sales revenue.William Underwood, co-founder of Locals Care, explained when people make a purchase, 50 percent of the gift goes to them, 40 percent goes to the non-profit and 10 percent goes to a default nonprofit, called community fund for children and the arts.Kevin Holsapple, executive director of the Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce and Los Alamos Commerce and Development Corporation, explained there is a trend in retail where loyalty programs have shown good results in helping businesses promote themselves.However, this trend is usually found in bigger stores and franchises. Locals Care, a small company in Santa Fe, was created to bring this trend to small, local businesses, Holsapple said.The company started about a year ago. After talking to the company and meeting with local businesses, the program was brought to Los Alamos and was initiated in mid-November, Holsapple said.“The underlying hope is that it can be an effective marketing tool,” he said.Currently, consumers with a Los Alamos National Bank debit card or credit card can participate in the program.The actual Locals Care cards are projected to be available early February.The program has shown successes. Holsapple said Locals Care customers shopped more frequently and had higher tickets per visit.He believes the program will be successful in Los Alamos because “we think the basic model is appealing.”The model, Holsapple said, allows business to reward customers and allows shoppers to donate to a nonprofit organization.Keeping money within the community is also a benefit. Underwood said, “You’re the wealthiest county in the U.S. but you only keep 11 cents to every dollar spent. That’s the lowest number we have ever seen.”Keeping money in the community, he said, will the strengthen the local economy. Non-profits will improve, merchants will be more robust and be able to offer better jobs and better wages.Businesses currently participating in the program include:• Ace Hardware,• Bella Cosa Flowers and Gifts,• Brownell’s Hallmark,• CB Fox,• Don Taylor’s Photography,• Home Run Pizza,• Otowi Station Bookstore and Science Museum,• Ruby K’s,• The Coffee Booth,• The Finishing Touch, and• UPEX-Bennets.Current participating non-profits include:• CASA Los Alamos,• Dance Arts Los Alamos,• Family Strengths Network,• Family YMCA,• Friends of the Shelter,• Los Alamos Community Foundation for Children, Education and the Arts,• Los Alamos Family Council,• Los Alamos Public Schools Foundation,• PAC 8,• Pajarito Educational Environmental Center,• Self Help Inc., and• The Art Center at Fuller Lodge.“We think it is a great way to support local commerce,” said Christel Hanson, communications coordinator at the Art Center.In addition to supporting local merchants, the program also gives a financial boost to nonprofits, she added.Plus, supporting nonprofits allows these organizations to provide more services to the community, said Becky Shankland, board secretary of PEEC. “My real belief is that the Locals Care program makes it possible to keep money circulating in the community,” she said.“I think everybody benefits by it,” Cheryl Pongratz, program director of Family Council, said. “It raises awareness of needing local shoppers,” she said.Business owners also see the program as a way to help make the community thrive.Steve Brownell, owner of Brownell’s Hallmark, said, “We wanted to see if there was some way we could make a difference in the community.”He added, the figures he has seen reveal a lot of money is going off the hill and an attempt needs to be made to keep money in Los Alamos.Cheryl Sowder also joined the program to help strengthen the community. ”My decision is based on community, community is the key word,” she said.The goal, Sowder said, is to make people “feel good about supporting the local community” and local nonprofits. “This is the best idea I’ve heard of yet to try and accomplish that.”While it will take time to determine whether the program will be effective or not, both Brownell and Sowder said they have had many customers already inquiring about the program.For more information, or to sign up for the program, call Los Alamos National Bank at 662-5171.As an incentive to join the program, the chamber is offering a drawing for a seven-day cruise for two.People who have a registered Locals Care account can enter the drawing with each $100 expenditure they make.The drawing will be held in January. For more information, go to www.shoplosalamos.com.