Dubbed “The Davos of Main Street” by Bloomberg Businessweek, the BALLE Conference serves three major purposes, according to Leslie Lindo, director of community engagement for Oakland, California–based BALLE. It connects individual leaders so they can learn from one another, helps spread solutions to common problems, and serves as a forum for attracting investment in local communities. And BALLE takes its mantra — “Think Local First” — to heart when organizing its conference, working with partners and vendors in host destinations like Phoenix for everything from audiovisual to speakers to recycling services.
What Is Localism?
As defined by BALLE, localism is about “building communities that are more healthy and sustainable — backed by local economies that are stronger and more resilient. It means we use regional resources to meet our needs — reconnecting eaters with farmers, investors with entrepreneurs, and business owners with the communities and natural places on which they depend.”
EIGHT TRACKS This year’s Conference — BALLE’s 13th — was organized around eight tracks, including environment, policy-making, community investment, and innovation for good. Speakers and panelists included prominent figures like Matt Stinchcomb, a founder of Etsy.com and Etsy.org, and farmer and author Joel Salatin, who proposes alternatives to industrialized farming. Every session incorporated some form of audience engagement, Lindo said.
INSIDE PHOENIX Sessions were held at six different venues throughout downtown Phoenix, including the Arizona State University campus and a historic theater. “People could really get a feel for the culture of the community,” said Andrew Connor, program manager for BALLE. “Downtown Phoenix is very walkable.” Spreading the conference around helped distribute revenue throughout the local economy, with Phoenix officials reporting that the meeting contributed more than $500,000 to the city.
FAR AFIELD Participants traveled by light rail to tour local businesses that are reusing vintage buildings in unique ways, including a former grocery-store warehouse that now holds a physical therapy office, a tech center, and co-working space, and The DeSoto Central Market, where restaurants and retail shops are housed in what used to be a car dealership. Nightly parties featuring local food vendors and showcasing local art and culture were a hit. “People really appreciate that the event is not a conference-hotel kind of conference,” Connor said. “It was a feast for the soul.”
BALLE (Business Alliance for Living Local Economies) Conference
June 10–12, 2015
Renaissance Phoenix Downtown Hotel and other locations