Meredith Cherney is the Program Manager for StayLocal, New Orleans’ Independent Business Alliance. She sat down with LCIA and shared her experiences working with Louisiana’s independent businesses, as well as the value of keeping money in our local economies.
Where and when did you begin working with Louisiana businesses?
After graduating from Tulane, I was placed with StayLocal as an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteer in Service to America). AmeriCorps is a federal program where community members work with nonprofit organizations for one year of service. After I finished my service term, I was hired on as a full-time staff member at StayLocal.
I have always had an interest in local economies, so StayLocal was a natural fit for me. I believe in the work as a way to empower all New Orleanians.
Can you talk a little bit about your role as Program Manager?
"Project Manager” means that I do a little bit of everything, including:
- Help promote Greater New Orleans’ independent businesses.
- Foster greater community knowledge about the benefits of shopping, sourcing, eating, and banking local (to name a few).
- Ensure local businesses stay competitive by hosting workshops and networking events, and performing research and advocacy work.
What does your typical work day look like?
There is no typical day for me! Most mornings I can be found in the office replying to emails or meeting business owners and community partners for coffee (good thing I love coffee). No two days are the same.
What is the best lesson in leadership that you have learned?
My first "real” job was as a SCUBA instructor in my hometown in Florida. I was one of the few women teaching and when I started my boss told me, "Never let a man carry your tanks, you have to carry your own.” Those air tanks are heavy, but this was an important lesson for me. Customers and coworkers would offer to take my tank assuming I couldn’t lift it because I was a girl. I always refused and earned the respect of my coworkers and customers. In fact, I would carry two tanks at a time—just to prove I could. People will underestimate you, and you need to be able to prove yourself through your work.
What is your favorite part about working with Louisiana businesses?
I love to get out and meet business owners. They are the coolest, have the best stories, and are some of the most inspiring people I have ever met.
What is the biggest opportunity for Louisiana businesses?
There is a sense of community among local businesses and the people they serve. Local business owners have a knowledge of their community—and in turn their customers— that provides a real opportunity to grow with and benefit each other.
What about the biggest challenge?
Without a doubt it is large, online retailers such as Amazon. Not only do they take business away from local retailers, but there is also a ripple effect of hurting local service providers and our city. Shopping online takes money out of our economy, community, and the pockets of New Orleanians.
What is the value in building a professional network?
When you get out and meet other businesses, there is obviously the potential to meet new clients. You need to also remember that you are not just meeting an individual; you are meeting their entire network. Who knows which person could bring you your next big deal.
At StayLocal, we host smaller, more intimate networking events exclusively for local businesses. We find that our attendees are all in the same boat, and they can learn from and relate to each other.
What’s one book you would recommend to Louisiana business owners?
I recommend Local Dollars, Local Sense by Michael Schuman. He discusses the value of local economies, and he introduces the concept of "the cost of cheap.” I think this is a worthwhile read for local businesses, and for the rest of us.
Anything you want to leave us with?
I mentioned the ripple effect before, and I want to emphasize that. I try to teach people to see the ripples that each of us creates when we choose to spend money. That is, every decision has effects that spread throughout a community.
To learn more about StayLocal, visit their website. They invite you to join them for an upcoming event or browse their member directory. Meredith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In Resourceful, we introduce readers to individuals who spend their days working with Louisiana businesses. They include leaders of business organizations, associations, and other resources across the state.