IN PRINT — It Just Might Work: Import substitution


As an economic theory, import substitution arose from strategies undertaken by Latin American countries to close the poverty gap with industrialized North America and Europe during the period after World War II. The idea is that less developed countries dependent on mining and agriculture would develop their own manufacturing industries to replace imports from North America for the purpose of building an indigenous base of wealth.

The strategy has been derided in some quarters as protectionism, socialism and state intervention, but it produced real economic gains in Latin America, just as it was used effectively by every developed country to develop industry, going back to England in the early 19th century.

I recently heard the term from my friend, Nick Szuberla, previously with Appalshop in Whitesburg, Ky. Nick mentioned that he would sometimes drive two and a half hours from Whitesburg to Asheville, NC just so he could sit in a coffeehouse. Economists have a term to describe the effect of Nick’s decision to drive to another state: “leakage of capital from one region to another.” So opening a coffeehouse in Whitesburg would be a form of import substitution to recapture that leaked capital.

More relevant to the Triad, think about farmers markets and restaurants that use locally sourced produce.

How about a locally owned and operated crêperie or wine bar to replace or augment the sterile and uninspiring coffeeshop at the Greensboro Depot and at the High Point Depot, which is currently unserved in this regard? A complement of food services could make the depots vibrant and inviting places that encourages transit ridership and social cohesion.