SAFFORD — With the holidays right around the corner, many will be spending a great deal of money online or in different cities outside of Graham and Greenlee counties.

But it’s not just the holidays — many who find themselves with a few days off work are the first to jump in the car and travel hours away, spending money in other communities and states.

Why is that money leaving the community?

“There’s not much to offer here; there’s nothing for the kids to do; they need to make more kid-friendly activities around here and more . . . stuff for older people, too,” said Shanden Tom, of Safford.

“Everyone here seems to work for the mine; they need stuff to do when they are not working. If they had more stuff to do like an activity hall or place, it would benefit a lot of people.”

Shopping local is a gift that keeps on giving, and it could help make the community a destination for visitors and guests as well as creating more choices for local entertainment and shopping.

With Shop Small Saturday coming this weekend, the focus is on getting local residents to spend time at local stores owned by their friends and neighbors.

However, too many will be using the long weekend to travel to Maricopa County to do their shopping.

According to the Arizona Office of Tourism, the greater Phoenix area hosted nearly 44 million visitors last year, and direct spending by those visitors exceeded $7.8 billion.

Josiah Kindelay, from Bylas, works at the mine in Morenci and said he likes to spend his days off relaxing and having fun.

“On my days off, I usually go back home to spend time with family and friends, or I go to Phoenix to go shopping because there is more of a variety out there,” he said. “It would be great if we had more family activity events around, like, for example, a Dave and Buster’s.”

According to Independent We Stand, nine out of 10 consumers agree shopping local makes a significant positive impact on the local economy.

There are many benefits of spending in the community: It helps create local jobs, extends the impact of tax dollars and ultimately creates more shopping choices.

“For locals to maybe spend more money in the area, they can have more family activities, bring in different bands once in a while,” said Priscilla Marie Subia-Hamersley, of York.

“It could also help if they do more things such as (SalsaFest) every September in Safford. Things like that would really make a difference.”

Using a USDA rural economic development innovation grant, Southeastern Arizona Governments Organization is spearheading an effort across both Graham and Greenlee counties to determine what amenities and services are needed here, as well as how to get information out about what’s available to locals and visitors alike.

The primary goal is to identify target industries that can be developed here or attracted to relocate to the Gila Valley.

In addition to SEAGO’s work, the Safford Downtown Association has begun work on development of wayfinding signage, with the goal of directing shoppers to stores and amenities they may not be aware already exist in the area.

And both the Graham County Chamber of Commerce and Greenlee County Tourism Council are in the process of compiling inventories of tourism-related assets in the area.

“No marketing plan, no matter how much money you throw at it, will be successful unless you are showcasing an authentic place and experience. Our working theory at the chamber is that our residents need to love living here so much that their family members and friends will want to visit them and enjoy our area. We need to dig deep to learn why we live here and what we have to share with the world,” Vance Bryce, chamber executive director, told the Courier in August.

A recent report by the Arizona Office of Tourism showed that Graham and Greenlee counties generated the least amount of tourism spending of any of Arizona’s 15 counties.

Graham pulled in $2.7 million in tourism spending in 2018 (the last year for which data was available), while Greenlee accounted for $200,000.

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