We started the "Best of Jackson" contest 14 years ago, simultaneous to the launch of the Jackson Free Press; the ballot was in the very first issue. We knew when we first launched that it was important for local people, organizations and businesses in the Jackson metro area to feel the warm glow of appreciation from our readership, and we believed seeing all those people and places honored in one place would make our readers a little prouder of their city at the same time.
Fast forward to 2015, and now hundreds of restaurants, businesses, offices and individuals have Best of Jackson certificates hanging on their walls, propped up on the bar or sitting conspicuously on their computer screens. The contest itself has its imitators (really, Clarion-Ledger, "Best of 2015" is what your corporate creative team came up with?), but there is only one Best of JacksonTM.
And it's the one that you, the reader, is responsible for making the best.
As it has been for the past few years now, this year's ballot is split into two—a nominations ballot, which is happening now, and a finalist ballot, which will go live the first week of December.
And, as usual, it's a long ballot. We appreciate everyone who has worked their way through the nominations ballot, which offers "write-in" blanks in 127 different categories. When it closes on Sunday, Nov. 22, 2015, we'll count each of those categories and take the top four to six (depending on the vote distribution) as finalists; the finalists ballot will be multiple choice to determine each winner.
If you haven't yet voted—or tried but couldn't complete a ballot—please do so at bestofjackson.com. (There's also a print ballot in this issue, but you need to tear it out and mail it by Friday, Nov. 20.)
If you need a little incentive, note that you only actually have to complete 20 categories for your ballot to count. As long as you are honest and diligent in those categories (don't just vote for one person, or band, or businesses in a bunch of categories that aren't relevant), then we'll count your ballot. And if you want to nominate in more categories, feel free—although you don't have to nominate in any category where you don't feel like you have first-hand knowledge.
As usual, we encourage nominations of local people, local organizations and locally owned businesses. This is a celebration of the people who work, lead, inspire and invest in the Jackson metro area—chains stores and fast food aren't what we're looking to honor. We want even more people and organizations to get those certificates to hang on their walls or admire on their desks.
Speaking of shopping locally, 'tis the season. In this issue, we're focused on a number of ways you can celebrate the holidays—including making or buying your Thanksgiving feast—by taking advantage of uniquely local businesses and artisans.
And coming up next week we'll have some special emphasis on Small Business Saturday and shopping local after Thanksgiving—something that's important to many small, local businesses out there that make up an important part of our unique sense of place.
None of this is easy—the Best of Jackson nominations ballot is long for you, the reader, and it's a bear to count for us, the newspaper people. And sometimes it's even tough to shop locally when a big Mart beckons with promises of one-stop-ease and Black Friday deals.
But it is important. As we've pointed out frequently in the Jackson Free Press, studies show that a much higher percentage of the dollars you spend in a locally owned business stay in the community. Most of the dollars spent in Walmart go to Bentonville, Ark. or Wall Street; many fewer of those dollars stay in Jackson. And as far as the job-creation stuff goes, if we had more local businesses instead of so many chains, we'd actually have more jobs, and they would pay better.
Speaking of Walmart, how's this—they're not even the biggest problem anymore. Now it's Amazon. That's right: Amazon is even worse for local economies when you shop there, because they do nearly no hiring in our local area, don't collect or remit sales taxes and, because they don't have much of a physical presence, they aren't paying property taxes. (Some big-box stores duck and dodge their property taxes, but at least they collect some sales tax from us.)
The result? The more dollars spent at Amazon, the fewer tax dollars generated in our communities by businesses. Which will mean, by default, a higher tax burden for individuals and families.
Finally, with no boots on the ground, Amazon doesn't leave much (if any) money in the local economy. In Jackson, for instance, the only thing you might be able to attribute to Amazon is a little pay for the UPS delivery person and a little of the gas that might be bought locally to go in the UPS delivery truck. Nothing else that a local business will frequently buy locally—inventory, supplies, energy, shelving, flooring, accounting, legal services—is something that Amazon isn't going to buy from our local community.
They probably won't even sponsor the local softball team.
So, as you're out there this "Black Friday" season, don't forget two things—first, feel free to grab a deal or two, but consider the options you have to shop local for some of those gifts. Then make a point of doing so in earnest on Small Business Saturday, hitting the local shops and restaurants up for clever gift ideas, gift certificates for family members and maybe even a little something for yourself.
Second, take a little time with the Best of Jackson ballot this week and make sure you nominate some of your favorite local people, businesses and organizations so that they can move on to the finalist round—an honor in and of itself.
Vote with your dollars and your nomination to support local businesses this holiday season—because those big boxes and cyberstores don't help make Jackson the unique and fabulous place it can be.
Todd Stauffer is the publisher of the Jackson Free Press. Email him at [email protected]