Economic Benefits of Food Localization

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* Report: The 25% Shift The Economic Benefits of Food Localization for Washtenaw County and Ypsilanti & The Capital Required to Realize Them. By Michael H. Shuman. Washtenaw County Office of Community and Economic Development, June 2013


Executive Summary

"A growing body of evidence suggests that “local food” stimulates the local economy, improves environmental stewardship, boosts healthy diets and public health, and catalyzes a stronger civic life. Given these myriad benefits, a growing number of regions and communities are trying to accelerate this trend and fully realize the potential benefits.

This paper evaluates the economic benefits that Washtenaw County and the Ypsilanti area (zip codes 48197 and 48198, within the County) could enjoy through a 25% shift toward local food. A “25% shift” means that for each industrial sector linked with food, a quarter of all non-local consumption shifts to local foodstuffs and local food services. Using IMPLAN, this paper details the principal characteristics of the food economy in the two study areas. For each of the 52 food sectors in the model, we show the levels of demand, export, production, and leakage. We then calculate the economic benefits of a 25% shift.

The model shows that in 2011 there were 19,549 food jobs in Washtenaw County, of which 4,180 were in the Ypsilanti area. A 25% shift could create for Washtenaw County 2,193 more jobs – 1,469 directly in new food businesses, 419 through new local supplychain spending (indirect effects), and 305 through new spending by local employees in these direct and supply-chain jobs (induced effects). For the Ypsilanti area, a 25% shift would create 628 jobs – 445 directly, 103 indirectly, and 80 induced. These are potential jobs, without consideration of potential constraints.

To put these potential new jobs in perspective, this would put one-in-five unemployed Washtenaw County residents back to work, and 36% of unemployed Ypsilanti residents. Additionally, the 25% shift would generate $75 million in new annual wages for Washtenaw County and $12.6 million in new tax revenues. Ypsilanti would see $23 million in new wages and $3.9 million in new tax revenues.

Not all the possible jobs from a 25% shift are plausible. Expansion of farming in Washtenaw County, for example, faces severe constraints in available land, and suggests the value of a regional approach to local food. The expansion of local food businesses also would require $147 million of new investment in Washtenaw County ($59 million in Ypsilanti). As large as this number is, however, it represents under 2% of short term savings county residents have in banks and credit unions, and under 1% of what they have in long-term stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and pension funds. To further explore the capital gaps facing local food businesses, we conducted in-depth interviews with seven individuals who have been active, personally and professionally, in expanding Washtenaw County’s local food system." (

More information

  • see also the article: 'Stop the Leakage', in Resilience, November 7, 2017, by Nathan Pickard, about an experience in Tulsa, Oklahoma:

"What if city designs included space for urban farming to provide a percentage of the calories required by their inhabitants? What if the community saw urban farming as an opportunity for economic growth and employment? What if the local government spent the same amount of money on the education, distribution, and land leasing to create food related jobs as it did on to attracting big businesses?

Let’s consider how much money could be kept in the local economy by creating our own urban food plan, giving local farmers the opportunity to supply the food sold at local grocery stores and restaurants." (