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Economic Development Articles

7/1/2020 - Economic Independence

signing of declaration of independence

The Fourth of July annually marks our country’s declaration of independence, which sparked the American Revolution. Fanning the flames for this revolt was the colonists’ burning desire for economic independence from Britain.

Today, in our modern economy, the economic life of every individual is interrelated, at least to a small extent, with the economic lives of millions of other individuals around the world.1 In the just the last fiscal quarter, America globally traded $151.3 billion in exports and $200.7 billion in imports.2 Despite our lack of economic independence, we are still relatively free, according to the Index of Economic Freedom,3 which ranked America 10th in the world in economic freedom, based on questions asked such as: Are people free to do what they want and work where they want? Are businesses free to produce when they want and what they choose? Are banks free to choose who will receive loans?

Thinking about economic independence, I wondered, can a small town be economically independent? Is a small, thriving economy possible in a globalized world? Businessman and writer Lyle Estill believes that it can, and set out to prove it. In his book, Small is Possible: Life in a Local Economy, he explains how people in his small town decided to become a self-sufficient community. One way they did so by forming a co-op grocery store, where a group of residents got together, with food from the local farms, and traded with one another. Another, was a biofuel operation that began with less than 10 people making their own fuel. Today, they have nearly 600 co-op members fueling eight different locations across the county. They collect waste vegetable oil or any type of fat and convert it into biodiesel. “People can create,” Estill explains “their own small businesses, trade goods and services among themselves and help their local economies grow and flourish.”4

Our Southbury COVID-19 Business Survey showed our local economy suffered a blow, with 78% of businesses seeking some form of government funding.5 As we begin the long and arduous process of recovery, perhaps the time is ripe to look at ways we could become more self-sustaining as a community, and as citizens. To start, let’s support our existing locally owned and operated businesses who are providing needed goods and services, by being customers. Perhaps then, capitalizing on Southbury’s reputation as an agricultural community, we grow our farm-to-table operations and add Agri-Tourism to the offering when we can gather again. At the same time, let’s invite people to start a business here and get creative. What can we produce locally that we are not already? A brewery or distillery perhaps? Sources of renewable energy?

Now is time for us to return to the roots of the revolution as we reimagine what Southbury can be in a post-COVID-19 world.

If you have ideas, e-mail me at: or call 203.262.0683.


  1. Lagarde, Christine. “The Interconnected Global Economy” (September 19, 2013)
  2. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) - An official website of the US government (April 2020)
  3. Tay, Ping. “Index of Economic Freedom.” Micro-Economics (February 4, 2014)
  4. Estill, Lyle. “Small is Possible: Life in a Local Economy”. (2008)
  5. “Southbury COVID-19 Business Survey”. Southbury Economic Development Commission (April-May 2020)


Kevin Bielmeier
Economic Development Director
Town of Southbury
(203) 262-0683

[This article first appeared in Southbury Neighbors magazine.]