A year after it began, a "Buy Local" ad campaign remains in high gear, with billboards popping up all over California's San Joaquin Valley urging shoppers to spend their money close to home.
But backers of the campaign acknowledge they have no way to know whether the effort is working.
"It's one of those things that's very hard to gauge," said Al Smith, president and CEO of the Greater Fresno Chamber of Commerce. "I don't know how it's translated itself at the cash register, but I do believe there's a higher awareness of the importance of buying local."
Judging the benefit is complicated by the fact that backers of the campaign chose to include chain stores. Most "buy local" campaigns across the country encourage shoppers to buy from independently owned businesses run by local residents.
Some national experts are critical of Fresno's campaign, with one nonprofit executive calling it "fraudulent" because locally owned businesses keep more money in the community than do chains.
The 18-month campaign was launched in March 2009 and was spearheaded by Fresno County's Economic Development Corp. and the Fresno Chamber of Commerce. The push has included print and broadcast advertising, posters and stickers in store windows and, most recently, billboards.
A major goal of the campaign is to keep sales tax dollars here, in addition to supporting local businesses during tough economic times, said EDC president and CEO Steve Geil.
Several studies of more traditional Buy Local campaigns — which focus on locally owned businesses — say they work.
A survey by the Tarrytown, N.Y.-based American Booksellers Association and several other business groups found independent retailers in cities with Buy Local campaigns had stronger sales over the recent holiday shopping season.
Those retailers reported an average 3 percent increase in sales over the previous year compared to 1 percent for those in cities without the campaigns.
Read more of this story at FresnoBee.com