Kimber Lanning, Executive Director of Local First Arizona, was awarded the Citizen Leadership Award by the International Economic Development Council (IEDC) for her extraordinary commitment in promoting economic development. The honor was presented on Tuesday, October 21, during IEDC’s Annual Conference in Fort Worth, TX.
“The Citizen Leadership Award celebrates a community or business leader, or an individual who is not an economic development specialist, but who plays a major leadership role in economic development pursuits,” said William C. Sproull, IEDC chair. “Ms. Lanning is a fine example of such an individual.”
A longtime leader in the Phoenix metropolitan area, Kimber Lanning began her career as a successful entrepreneur and currently serves as Executive Director of Local First Arizona. Her enthusiasm in supporting local businesses and community culture has shaped her career and helped transform the city.
“This award is a milestone in a changing economy, one that is now recognizing the work of Local First Arizona and other Local First initiatives as a viable part of economic development.” said Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton. “Kimber can proudly accept this award on behalf of everyone working to create sustainable, resilient, diverse, and vibrant local economies in their own communities.”
Witnessing the adverse effects of local businesses departing from her community, Ms. Lanning took a different approach towards economic development when she opened an art gallery in a blighted area in central Phoenix. Her dedication to her business and neighborhood attracted other small business owners to the area and inspired a neighborhood transformation. Lanning’s willingness to contribute energy, creative event planning, and economic development strategies led to the reduction of crime in the area by 62 percent, created over 135 full time jobs, and provided immeasurable community pride.
In 2003, Ms. Lanning launched Local First Arizona in an effort to inspire others to stay in Phoenix to help build a world-class city. She knew that in order to encourage residents to feel connected and rooted to the area, a climate needed to be cultivated so that local businesses could compete against chain stores and large companies. Ms. Lanning developed a specific strategy to gain the traction needed to move the needle on Arizona’s economy. She streamlined the City of Phoenix’s Adaptive Reuse program, which was so cumbersome that it was preventing small businesses from opening. Ms. Lanning’s pilot program was a success and is now encouraged citywide. Because of her persistence, Phoenix’s overall economic strategy now includes small businesses that have important connections to the community.
Ms. Lanning’s innovative small business and entrepreneurial programs have proven to be highly successful. She went to work on the state’s procurement procedures, transforming them from a “low-bid wins” policy to a focus on selecting local contracts. She also created a Spanish language initiative and the Fuerza Local Accelerator Program to assist and encourage low-income Latinos in entrepreneurial endeavors.
Because of Ms. Lanning’s leadership of Local First Arizona, the organization is now the largest locally owned business coalition in North America with over 2,600 business members large and small. Most importantly, the local business community reported sales were up 8.1% in 2013, almost twice the national average. In 2013, Ms. Lanning shared Local First Arizona’s success with rural communities surrounding Phoenix by incorporating the Arizona Rural Development Council and encouraging sustainable development in rural communities through an annual Rural Policy Forum.
Kimber Lanning is actively and enthusiastically involved in fostering cultural diversity, economic self-reliance, and responsible growth for the Phoenix metropolitan area. She has come to economic development via unconventional means but quickly demonstrated to her community that her ideas and programs work.
“The successes of Local First Arizona over the last decade have underscored the broad range of strategies that Arizona needs to pursue for sustainable economic development,” said Ms. Lanning. “Through supporting entrepreneurs and locally owned enterprises—both large and small—we are maximizing the ecosystem of a healthy economy that builds widespread prosperity and supports more jobs. Local First Arizona is creating healthy local economies across the state that will in turn draw further economic development opportunities.”