Healthy food, sustainability among new LFA Southern Arizona director’s aims

Grab your Golden Coupon and gear up to save and celebrate Tucson businesses during Independents Week. Promoted by Local First Arizona, Tucson’s version of this national event will take place July 1-9. It runs through Independence Day to capture the spirit of freedom that local businesses bring to their communities.

Michael Peel

“Supporting local businesses is what makes our state and the country great,” says Michael Peel, the new Southern Arizona director for Local First Arizona, a nonprofit organization that supports a strong local business community and raises public awareness of the benefits of patronizing local businesses. LFA defines a local business as one that is privately owned and headquartered in Arizona. If the business has multiple locations, a majority of the locations must be in Arizona.

Peel says that Independents Week creates an atmosphere of fun and people can save 20 percent using the Golden Coupon at hundreds of businesses across the state such as restaurants, boutiques, auto repair shops and nurseries. The coupon and a list of participating businesses can be found on the LFA website at www.localfirstaz.com/independents-week/.

“This event is a great way to bring in new customers and it provides good publicity,” says Peel. Business owners who want to participate can sign up on the website through June 23.

If a community the size of Tucson shifted 10 percent of its spending to
local businesses rather than national chain stores, Peel says it could result in about 1,600 new jobs, $53 million in new wages and $130 million in total economic impact.

Peel has spent his career developing and facilitating community-based partnerships. He served as community and government relations liaison at Pima Community College District and as development and jobs director at Uncommon Good, a grassroots non-profit organization based in Claremont, Calif. Peel has also served on a variety of boards, including most recently the United States Green Building Council, Tucson Emerging 2030 District, and Tucson Clean and Beautiful. He was one of the key leaders who worked to reorganize USGBC Arizona efforts in Tucson to ensure a strong and ongoing presence in Southern Arizona. Peel was honored in August 2016 as the USGBC 2016 Volunteer of the Year, Arizona Community.

A Tucson native, Peel returned to the city after being out of Arizona for about 10 years.

“I am thrilled about the prospects of what can be accomplished here, and am privileged to be back in my hometown,” he says. “I am passionate about the work I will be doing with Local First Arizona — this is really a dream job for me to help encourage the start of new businesses and help existing businesses stay in business.” There are many success stories, and Peel wants to help others learn to overcome challenges through innovative approaches and programs.

The organization’s plans include focusing on maintaining a sustainable environment by evaluating older buildings and developments to revitalize downtown and other areas. Tucson has an Emerging 2030 District designation, Peel says, part of a nationwide commitment to reducing energy use, water use and transportation emissions by 50 percent by the year 2030. LFA also is working on developing healthy local food access by promoting locally produced food and educating consumers about healthy eating habits.

“When people buy local it makes Tucson a better place to live and people want to travel here because it is a special place,” says Peel. “We are trying to keep Tucson’s unique identity.”

Korene Charnofsky Cohen is a freelance writer and editor in Tucson.