The Mesa Unified School District and the Mesa Chamber of Commerce deserve kudos for a new buy-local initiative.

The district spends more than $130 million for items ranging from lunch food to equipment to computers. It has many long-term vendors that get the business based on a bid. Many are out of state.

School officials have decided that more of the district’s funds need to be spent closer to home.

Bill Munch, purchasing director for the Mesa district, approached the chamber with the buy-local idea.

We agree that it is important that the school district try to use local vendors so that the money is kept in the community to support local businesses and job growth. The Mesa Chamber of Commerce has provided a list of its members so that they can be contacted when purchases are planned. They will get a chance to bid and eventually other Arizona businesses will have a chance to be on a contact list.

To help Mesa businesses pursue this business, Mesa chamber President Peter Sterling said the chamber will offer workshops to train businesses on doing business with the district. The goal is to make it easy to understand how to pursue the school district’s purchases.

The district wants to make it easy for local businesses to bid to be vendors. But it is wisely still requiring them to be the best bidder because of better service or pricing. The district will still buy out of the market when the best bidder comes from there. To not do this would possibly place the district in the uncomfortable position of constantly explaining why it is spending money it doesn’t need to spend just so a local business gets the purchase. The danger here should be obvious — charges of favoritism or other favors. By sticking with the “best bid” approach that won’t be an issue.

The Mesa chamber has more than 1,000 members and Mesa has 17,000 businesses in total. But that is just a start. Munch is also on the board of the Arizona Association of School Business Officials and hopes to encourage other districts to adopt the same buy-local initiative.

What do schools buy? Photocopiers, audiovisual equipment, athletic equipment, textbooks, computers and printing supplies are among the items that make up the $130 million in purchases.

But what is the No. 1 item that the schools buy?

“We buy a ton of food,” Munch said. “We get truckloads of food every day for 62,000 students.”

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