Led by Guy Bazzani, owner of Bazzani Associates, Local First was founded in 2003 as an informal group of seven business owners dedicated to promoting local businesses in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Originally known as BALLE West Michigan, the group formed an early partnership with the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies. Centered in Grand Rapids' resurgent Uptown business district, Local First's predecessor quickly established itself as a vital tool for owners and supporters of local business alike to discuss and promote their interests.
In 2007, with 150 local businesses participating, Local First hired its first full-time executive director, Elissa Hillary. With focused leadership, Local First began to grow exponentially, expanding beyond its traditional Uptown boundaries and throughout West Michigan. By the end of 2009, Local First's membership exceeded 500 locally owned businesses, and Elissa was joined by a full-time membership coordinator and a part-time program coordinator.
In 2010, Local First was named the Midwest regional hub network for BALLE. As part of BALLE's Community of Practice, Local First is responsible for advising "Buy Local" campaigns throughout the Midwest on organization and development issues. A recognized leader on local business issues and sustainability, Local First additionally participates in an advisory capacity on many of the City of Grand Rapids' economic development initiatives.
Today, Local First is the largest organization supporting and advocating for locally owned businesses in the Midwest, representing more than 550 member businesses throughout West Michigan. Located in the heart of Uptown in the revitalized Wealthy St. business district, Local First organization is served by five staff members. An educational entity - the Local First Educational Foundation - furthers the mission of the organization with such signature events as the Local First Sustainability Conference, the Local First Street Party, and the Eat Local Challenge.