One of my favorite movies is the 1969 classic “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Since it came out, I’ve probably watched it 20 times.
After Butch and the Kid robbed his Union Pacific Railway trains one time too many, the railroad owner, E.H. Harriman, hired famed lawman Joe LeFors and an Indian tracker named Lord Baltimore to recruit a posse and pursue our heroes. Their pledge was to go anywhere and do whatever it takes, for as long as it takes, to catch Butch and the Kid.
Throughout the movie, the boys would jump off of cliffs, dodge in and out of whorehouses, change their names and identities and flee to distant continents, but LeFors and his posse would relentlessly follow.
With each new escape and peril avoided, Butch and the Kid would ask each other, “Who are those guys?”
LeFors and his posse were largely unseen, but they were a constant presence. They had the single goal of capturing Butch and the Kid and they were absolutely relentless; nothing could stop them.
Where before lawmen stuck to their territory, were poorly paid and had many bad guys to contend with, Harriman created a new “business model.” His lawmen had only one purpose, could go anywhere in pursuit and were paid handsomely by one man to achieve their one single goal. They didn’t fit the usual pattern.
Thus, Butch and the Kid’s frequent refrain: Who are those guys?
I kept asked myself the same question — who are those guys? — at a recent one-day meeting in Charleston called the Good Business Summit put on by Lowcountry Local First.
There were more than 200 young people, virtually all in their 20s and 30s, probably three-fourths of whom had recently moved to Charleston and they were all focused on one thing — how to do well in business while creating a positive community impact.
Lowcountry Local First is the brainchild and creation of Jamee Haley, and it has grown with the hard work of conference organizer Lauren Gellaty and a small but dedicated staff. Since 2007, they have worked tirelessly to create a network of small local business that are driven by a commitment to “local first” and a passion that defines part of their business success as helping each other and helping make the world a better place to live.
They have more than 500 members that run the full range of business — restaurants, real estate, liquor distillers and beer brewers, tech companies, graphic and design firms, employment and construction firms, historic properties, kids toys, farmers and pest control — and on and on it goes.
Their overarching commitment is local first, and that means buying and selling with local suppliers, farmers and vendors and giving back to their local community. They often cite the statistic that for every $100 spent with a local enterprise, $45 is re-invested in the local economy as opposed to only $14 spent at a national chain store.
And giving back takes lots of different forms. It means sound environmental practices, fair wages and good working conditions, respect for gender and racial diversity and active support for their favorite local charity or cause.
Besides putting on great conferences, Lauren and her dedicated friend are building this local-first economy in many ways. The have created a shared work space called Local Works to help incubate and support these budding entrepreneurs; launched public education and logo campaigns to promote “Eat Local” and “Buy Local” and they have recently started the Dirt Works Incubator Farm on John’s Island to support new, young farmers. They have also created an innovative Neighborhood Captains program to organize local support and advocacy activities.
Now, don’t be tempted to think that these folks are somehow the latest generation of kum ba yah hippie types who have contempt for The Man and a deep suspicion of or hostility to Corporate America. That’s just not who they are. They are hard-headed businesspeople, some of whom are running multi-million dollar businesses with dreams of being global players — but above all, they insist that it be done on their terms and consistent with their values.
They, not a corporate headquarters on the other side of the world, make the decisions and define success.
Many of these folks are “lone wolves” in that they have created their businesses by themselves or with one or two friends but they are highly collaborative – sharing and trading is how they learn and grow. Many if not most of them have two or three “gigs” or companies they are working at the same time. Like LeFors, their motto seems to be “whatever it takes” — and they mean it.
So, who are those guys? They are the good guys.
These are the folks who are doing well while doing good and helping to create a new community and economic model that is good for all of us.
We need more good guys like these businesses and a Lowcountry Local First in every city and town in South Carolina.
Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and president of the S.C. New Democrats, an independent reform group started by former Gov Richard Riley. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.