This year, our small team at ILSR helped catalyze an expanding movement to check corporate power.
We helped policymakers, journalists, and activists understand the threat that Amazon’s growing stranglehold poses to our democracy, livelihoods, and communities. Our analysis of Amazon was cited in hundreds of news stories. Videos we scripted about the company’s power have been viewed more than 2 million times. Together with allies, we’ve helped galvanize opposition to the $4.6 billion in public subsidies New York and Virginia are offering for Amazon’s new offices. Today, thanks in part to our advocacy, there are growing calls for antitrust action to check Amazon’s economic and political power.
As we work to advance a national conversation about the dangers of monopolies, we’re also providing practical tools that you and your community can use to challenge corporate concentration directly. From our local policy guides to the more than 50 technical assistance requests we fielded this year, we're showing community leaders how to use policy to support entrepreneurship, expand local businesses, and build a stronger local economy.
Never before have our policy ideas and research attracted this much interest — and 2019 is shaping up to be an even more pivotal year. We’re eager to seize this moment. But we need your help. Please consider supporting our work with a donation. Thank you.
With gratitude and warm regards,
Stacy, Marie, Charlie, and Zach
P.S. Be sure to check out the great work of ILSR's other initiatives by reading our 2018 Annual Report.
Ten 2018 Standouts
2018 was a big year for ILSR's Community-Scaled Economy Initiative. We continued to do important research and reporting on market concentration and the need to dust off our antitrust laws. And we also spotlighted important policy victories and success stories, from wins on tax fairness, to innovative zoning, and more.
Here, in no particular order, are a few highlights.
10. Shining a Light on the Pernicious Impact of Dollar Store Chains
Our reporting on how the nation's two dominant dollar chains are blanketing struggling neighborhoods and small towns attracted over 100,000 readers and sparked follow-on coverage in more than a dozen media outlets.
Through an in-depth feature article and two-page factsheet, Marie and Stacy tell the story behind these chains, including how they entrench wealth disparities, displace local grocery stores, and target African American communities. Plus, we look at how a city councilor in Tulsa, Okla., is successfully fighting back.
9. Zoning for Local Retail
A Bloomberg Businessweek piece focused on zoning policies as instruments of local economic power, and used ILSR’s work and Jersey City, N.J., as case studies. Jersey City restricts formula businesses — chains — to no more than 30 percent of the ground-level commercial real estate space. It's one reason that independent retailers are thriving in the city's downtown.
Meanwhile, more cities are thinking about commercial rent affordability, and some are beginning to take action.
8. A Local Policy Action Toolkit
Featuring nine policy measures to recommend to your local city council and mayor, our Local Policy Action Toolkit also offers real world examples of places that have taken the initiative to fight market concentration and ensure healthier, more resilient local economies.
We recommend pairing the toolkit with our comprehensive Policy Guide.
7. Podcasts Aplenty
We continued to produce informative episodes of our podcast, Building Local Power. Most recently, we talked to Kimber Lanning of Local First Arizona about how her organization has helped make Phoenix a city that champions local business. We also hosted Chuck Mahon of Strong Towns on how conventional wisdom about economic growth is dead wrong, journalist David Dayen on monopoly as an election issue, and broadcast journalist Laura Flanders on how to curb concentration in media.
Catch up these episodes and more wherever you get your podcasts.
6. Sales Tax Victory
After a nearly two-decades-long fight for a level playing field, in a landmark case in June, the Supreme Court ruled that companies need not have a physical presence in a state to be obligated to collect sales tax there.
While welcome, the victory was far too long in coming. As Stacy told the New York Times: “It’s hard to overstate how much not having to collect sales tax mattered in the first 15 years of Amazon’s growth."
5. Calling on the Federal Trade Commission to Do Its Job
For the first time in more than 20 years, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) held a series of public hearings to examine whether it should be doing more to check concentrated economic power.
ILSR responded with a resounding "Yes!" We submitted two sets of comments, one on the alarming decline of small business creation rates, and the second on Amazon’s anticompetitive behavior.
Our comments were cited twice during the hearings, which, as Zach reported, were mostly disappointing, save for a few break-through moments that revealed growing and well-founded opposition to the FTC's lax approach.
4. Pulling Back the Curtain on the "HQ2" Scam
After a yearlong contest that was almost certainly more ruse than real, Amazon announced it would settle its “HQ2” between Queens in New York City and a Northern Virginia location outside Washington, D.C.
The sham process gave Amazon a trove of valuable data from 238 cities, and it showed how the company's ambitions extend beyond controlling the economy to enveloping and manipulating government. Stacy elaborated on these points in numerous interviews in the wake of the announcement, including in The New York Times, The Washington Post, New York Magazine, Vox, Slate, and USA Today.
Meanwhile, in an op-ed in Fortune, Charlie reminded everyone that Amazon has a long history of gaming government to secure favors that give it an advantage over competitors.
3. Teaming Up With Bernie
2. Exposing Amazon's Bid to Take Over Local Government Purchasing — and Spurring Cities to Buy Local Instead
In July, we published a groundbreaking investigation
of how Amazon is quietly taking over the purchasing of hundreds of cities, counties, and school districts. Our reporting revealed how a contract the company is peddling nationwide puts cities at risk of paying more, violates basic standards of transparency, and harms local economies.
Thanks to our work, cities like Tempe, Ariz., are reassessing their relationship with Amazon and turning to local business partners instead.
1. Checking Amazon's Power
ILSR’s research and reporting on Amazon played a major part in the national discussion this year. Stacy's cover store in The Nation
and her extended Q&A in The Sun
have shaped how policymakers are thinking about Amazon's growing monopoly power, how journalists are reporting on it, and how advocacy organizations are responding.
As more people begin to understand Amazon’s ultimate ambitions
, we're also helping to show what can be done. "Making America Antitrust Again
" is one way to describe our prescription, and that was how NPR's On The Media
headlined a segment with Stacy.
In another piece for The Nation
, we pulled ideas from across ILSR's initiatives to show the many different ways we can counter corporate power
— and, indeed, how communities across the country already are.
With your support, we want to do even more in 2019. Please help us work to create an economy that's more competitive, equitable, and prosperous by making a donation today. Thank you!