Community Economy

Johnetta Roberts walks into an office building on West Broadway. She’s there to meet with local entrepreneur and dentist Kwane Watson to talk to him about the Louisville Independent Business Alliance (LIBA) and explain how the group can help him in his own business endeavors.

If he decides to join the group, Watson will be one of the first members Roberts recruits from west Louisville since starting with LIBA as the neighborhood initiatives manager for south and west Louisville in March. Roberts’ job is to expand the group to west and south Louisville, two areas that have less representation in the local business group. The group, known more commonly by its tagline “Keep Louisville Weird,” supports local, independent businesses while encouraging Louisville residents to buy local.

Roberts said her goal is “just to help those local businesses to shine, to help the rest of Louisville to see that there are vibrant local businesses in west and south Louisville.”

Courtesy LIBA

LIBA logo

Most of the group’s members are in city neighborhoods including downtown, the Highlands and Crescent Hill.

As a local entrepreneur, Watson fits the profile of LIBA’s members. He used to own a dental practice, but he sold it and is now focusing on an app he designed, Kare Mobile, Inc., to help people find nearby dental practices to schedule last minute appointments.

Watson said he had never heard of LIBA before, although he was familiar with the tagline. He said he sees how the group could benefit him and west Louisville as a whole.

“A lot of times what I look at is, is this an organization that I want to be a part of? So I look at who’s already in it, and if it’s people I feel like have been successful and that I can learn something from, then usually I would like to be involved in something of that nature,” Watson said.

Roberts said since forming in the mid-2000s, LIBA has attracted members from across the city, but south and west Louisville have remained underrepresented.

“At the end of the day, we hope that membership reflects the city of Louisville … and right now it doesn’t,” Roberts said.

Jennifer Rubenstein, LIBA’s director, said the group has over 900 members. Interested businesses must meet several criteria. For example, the business cannot be publicly traded or use a national brand for its identity. The primary place of business must also be located in Louisville. Members pay a yearly fee of $100.

Rubenstein said the group also focuses on encouraging Louisville residents to buy local. She said a 2012 study shows that for every $100 spent at a national chain, $14 is reinvested in the community. For every $100 spent at a local business, $55 is reinvested.

“Those dollars remaining locally means stronger job growth, better neighborhoods,” Rubenstein said. “Independent businesses pay their taxes right here in Louisville, so they are supporting our infrastructure, our sewers and water quality.”

Roberts said her plan for increasing membership is to visit individually with local business owners. She said many business owners know the tagline but don’t know about LIBA. She wants them to know about the member benefits such as the free publicity they will receive by being published in LIBA’s Buy Local Guide.

“With LIBA, a lot of what we try to do is bring attention to local businesses …” Roberts said. “LIBA offers multiple opportunities to make sure that the entire city is aware that you exist.”

Roberts meeting was a success, and Watson joined LIBA that same day.

Roberts said south and west Louisville both have active committees working to strengthen the group in their respective areas. They also have monthly meetings and networking events with LIBA members across the city.