There is a new campaign under way to educate local residents and businesses about the importance of doing business locally. While this campaign WILL tell you to support local businesses, it WILL NOT tell you to stop shopping online. That's because we know that isn't a realistic request.

No one can argue that online shopping has changed the business world tremendously, and in many instances, has caused the demise of some brick and mortar stores. While that is concerning, studies and trends prove that if something is fast, easy, and convenient consumers will use it anyway. So we won't tell you not to.

What this new campaign WILL tell you is that there are simple things you can do to make a difference in your community.

Pride of the Lakes started with a meeting of some members of the Alexandria Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and Alexandria Downtown Merchants Association who were concerned about the closing of some major retailers in the Alexandria community.

After numerous conversations and hours spent researching what other communities were doing to deal with this issue, we realized that successful communities have community pride at their core. When people are proud of the community in which they live, work and play, they want it to thrive, and they are willing to do their part to support it.

So instead of creating a Shop Local campaign, we created a community branding campaign meant to boost the pride we have for our area, and to simply educate people on things they can do to make our community even greater.

We then called in some of the top marketing minds from businesses and organizations throughout Douglas County for a brainstorming session, and from that stemmed the campaign name, "Pride of the Lakes." We turned that over to students in the marketing class at Alexandria Area High School, who took on the project and created a campaign that included a website; window clings, social media marketing, and newspaper, radio marketing and movie theater marketing. That campaign launched in mid-May.

A couple other key points:

• This is not a "Shop Local" initiative, but rather a "Do Business Local" initiative. Often these campaigns focus on retail shopping. Every business is important to our community, and we want people to realize the importance of supporting service businesses as well, such as banks, insurance agents, auto repair shops, health and wellness businesses, cosmetologists and everything in between. If you are driving hours away to another community for any of those needs, or if you are doing them online with a business out of our community, please consider making a change, and do your business locally!

• This is not an "Alexandria" initiative, but rather a "Douglas County" Initiative. Alexandria is the county seat, and is the most populous community in the county. But Alexandria simply wouldn't be what it is without the residents and businesses throughout all of Douglas County. It's important that the entire county thrives. So whether you have a business in Miltona, Kensington, Millerville, Forada, or anywhere else within the county, we want to see local residents and businesses supporting you, and we want you to thrive.

We need EVERYONE to commit to supporting Douglas County, MN - residents young and old, owners of businesses large or small, employees, students, nonprofits, service organizations, and everyone who lives, works, and plays here. We need YOU to make sure our community continues to thrive. Visit www.prideofthelakes.com and pledge to do your part today!

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Tara Bitzan is executive director of the Alexandria Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce. In the Know is a rotating column written by community leaders from the Douglas County area.