Our mission is to support and cultivate locally-owned, independent businesses in Washtenaw County, Michigan that are committed to making our community a healthier and more vibrant place to live.
The nonprofit's founder was Lisa Dugdale, who served as its first executive director from May 2003 to May 2008.
TLF's website describes its founding this way:
In 2003 and 2004, a group composed of long-time local business owners, new business owners, and community members began to meet to talk about their concern that it was becoming more and more difficult for locally-owned businesses to survive in this area. This group shared a common belief that strong communities begin with businesses that are a part of the fabric of our community, and that express their connection to and respect for their community in their choices of goods and services and the way in which these are provided. To strengthen these locally-owned businesses, the group formed a nonprofit called the Living Economy Network (LEN) so that they could connect businesses to one another and educate the community about the value of local ownership. In 2006 LEN changed their name to Think Local First.
After stepping down as executive director, Dugdale continued as a member of TLF's board. Ingrid Ault was executive director from 2008 to 2014 – a part-time position. Ault resigned in May 2014 and was replaced by board member Jud Branam.
From a May 14, 2014 press release about the change: "Branam has deep experience in area media, from a decade as a newspaper reporter in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti to 15 years of digitally focused marketing work , most recently with his own consulting firm, Ink by the Barrel New Media. He served on the TLF Board of Directors prior to his appointment as interim Director. Branam is also known to many as the lead singer in Ann Arbor roots-rock band Corndaddy and he serves on the Board of Directors of ArtServe Michigan."
As of August 2014, the website's list of board members hasn't been updated – it still lists Ault as executive director, with terms for board officers expiring on June 30, 2014. The board members listed at that time are: President Charlie Penner (director of Michigan Small Business Center); vice president Jud Branam (owner, Ink By The Barrel); treasurer Eric Bassey (owner, Production Solutions); Middy Matthews (owner, 360 Phot0); Jessica Meissner (individual supporter); Alex Perlman (owner, The Beet Box); Kyle Poplin (owner, The Ann Magazine); and Scott Rosencrans (owner, Grants Resource).
TLF members are featured in weekly segments of the Lucy Ann Lance Show on 1290 WLBY-AM.
In 2013 the group started the annual Washtenaw Indie Awards, in partnership with The Ann magazine. The Ann's editor and co-founder, Kyle Poplin, is a TLF board member. In 2014, the categories/winners were:
- The Washtenaw Soul Award: A business that represents the unique spirit of Washtenaw County by celebrating diversity, creativity, is confident in their individuality and supports their community. Winner: Arbor Brewing Company.
- The Big Leap Award: A business that "took the leap" and successfully created a new idea, model, or solution despite all the risks. Winner: Russian Ballet Theater.
- The Hidden Gem Award: This is a great business that is overlooked and more people should know about. Winner: By the Pound.
- Community Care Award: This nonprofit stands out for the clarity of its mission, the dedication of its volunteers, and its long-term impact to the citizens at large. Winner: The Neutral Zone.
TLF is part of a network of like-minded organizations nationally. It's affiliated with the American Independent Business Alliance (AIBA) and the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE). Zingerman's co-founder Paul Saginaw is a former BALLE board member.