After graduating from UB in 1998, Kedron left her hometown to
earn two master’s degrees at Columbia University. Like other
post-industrial cities in what’s known as the “Rust
Belt,” Buffalo at that time was suffering from decades of
economic decay and depopulation as manufacturing jobs disappeared
and familiar storefronts shut their doors.
Then, in 2003, Kedron returned home and discovered a paradox.
Buffalo was in a state of economic crisis—but not everywhere.
She clearly remembers Elmwood Avenue, a popular shopping strip that
runs down the center of town, bustling with new retail, housing and
Kedron realized that Elmwood’s success was largely due to
the presence of so many locally owned businesses in the area, from
independent bookstores to mom-and-pop restaurants.
Seeing her hometown in a new light, Kedron went on to launch an
award-winning nonprofit organization called Buffalo First, which is
helping Buffalo redefine its economy and culture. At the same time,
she completed two graduate degrees at UB, capping a unique
educational journey to explore the “Rust Belt
As a UB undergraduate, Kedron spent a semester interning at the
National Center for Economic and Security Alternatives (NCESA), an
independent think tank in Washington, D.C. It was there that she
discovered the importance of localism, or the role that locally
owned businesses play in strengthening their communities. At the
NCESA, Kedron studied this and other sustainable economic models,
such as cooperatives and worker-owned businesses.
She also learned about the local economic multiplier, or how
many times a dollar is respent in an area. Recent studies, she
says, demonstrate that shopping at a locally owned and operated
business can keep up to four times more money in a community versus
shopping at a chain.
In recent decades, Kedron adds, Rust Belt cities had grown so
poor that national retailers and restaurants avoided investing in
them, choosing more lucrative markets instead. But she realized
that not having these glitzy shopping districts was actually good
for Buffalo, because many of its long-established Main Streets were
left intact and full of local businesses.
After returning to Buffalo from New York City, Kedron dedicated
herself to “social entrepreneurship,” or the use of
business principles to advance social change. She enrolled in a
joint degree program through the UB Law School and the American
Studies program, part of the Department of Transnational Studies in
the College of Arts and Sciences.
In 2006, while still a law student and a doctoral candidate,
Kedron launched Buffalo First, an organization that advocates for
economic, social and environmental sustainability in
Buffalo’s business practices.
Buffalo First is an affiliate of the Business Alliance for Local
Living Economies (BALLE), a fast-growing, national network
representing 30,000 independent businesses across the U.S. and
Canada. Now serving more than 175 business members, Buffalo First
is supported by hundreds more individuals and groups in Buffalo
Niagara. Among its many consumer-outreach programs are popular
“buy local” holiday campaigns to encourage Western New
Yorkers to shop at independent retailers. It also conducts policy
research and lobbies at the local and state levels.
Meanwhile, Buffalo First has joined forces with other grassroots
organizations in the area, transforming Buffalo into a national
model of localism.
When she began her graduate work, Kedron knew that localism was
a relatively new concept for scholars and for consumers, but she
says there were many “unique opportunities” at UB to
connect her interests in Buffalo’s economy with her academic
Having already customized an undergraduate degree in critical
race theory and feminist theory, Kedron wasn’t afraid to
experiment at the graduate level. As she puts it, “UB has
been flexible enough to let me try.”
She chose the dual degree in law and American studies because it
allowed her to combine legal studies with applied social research.
Running the nonprofit allowed her to study the local business
community in Buffalo, and then document how local businesses
sustain the community around them in economic, social and political
“This project is about praxis: putting academic theory to
work at the community level,” Kedron says.
“Much of the social sciences examine people’s
relationship to power; this is the essence of localism,” she
continues. “When people support businesses, organizations and
institutions owned by people in their communities, they are
choosing to put power in the hands of their neighbors, not a
distant owner, CEO or shareholder. Localism gives communities
control, and this issue of control is a timeless topic.”
As part of her American studies fieldwork, Kedron observed
nearly 400 proprietors from Buffalo’s ethnically and
economically diverse business districts. From there, she narrowed
the group to 40 merchants and spent the next two years interviewing
These individuals were selected for their leadership in the
community, their business’s cultural impact and their
commitment to ethical and sustainable business practices, including
using local suppliers, recycling or using renewable energy, and
paying living wages. BALLE and other progressive business
organizations call this philosophy the “triple bottom
line”: people, planet and profit.
“Their values became Buffalo First’s values,”
Outside class, Kedron spent most of her waking moments
advocating for her fellow students and for the Buffalo business
As an undergrad, she served as vice president and treasurer for
UB’s student-run, student services nonprofit, Sub-Board I
Inc., which helped hone her leadership skills and feed her
Later on, she was a founding board member for Buffalo’s
Partnership for Public Good, a progressive think tank that helps
facilitate community-based research, policy development and citizen
In 2009, Kedron also testified on retail diversity and
sustainability at a special hearing of the New York State Senate
and Assembly, which led to statewide legislation in 2011 to create
benefit corporations. A new kind of socially responsible company,
benefit corporations are legally bound to the triple bottom
Kedron’s community work has been informed and supported by
her academic experiences. Without several graduate fellowships,
most from the law school, Kedron stresses that she would never have
been able to launch the nonprofit. Among these were awards that
covered her tuition and sustained a summer research internship, as
well as a dissertation fellowship from the Baldy Center for Law and
Kedron also credits her time as a student attorney at UB
Law’s Community Economic Advocacy Clinic, where she learned
how to file Buffalo First’s legal paperwork. The clinic
specializes in community economic development.
“I would never have been able to create a project like
this anywhere else but UB,” she says.
In May 2012, Kedron was invited to be a moderator and speaker at
BALLE’s annual business conference in Grand Rapids, Mich.,
where she discussed ways to bring sustainable business development
to underserved communities.
“During the slideshow I gave about Buffalo, I was close to
tears talking about how my hometown stepped up and turned itself
around,” she says.
BALLE plans to hold its 2013 conference in Buffalo, bringing
more than 700 social entrepreneurs, independent business leaders
and investors to Western New York. In addition to ideas and
momentum, the conference will pump hundreds of thousands of dollars
into the local economy.
For Kedron, now living in Florida as she finishes her doctoral
dissertation, this national recognition is proof that her academic
work is making an impact. After defending her dissertation in the
spring of 2013, she hopes to publish it as one of the first books
examining localism at the academic level. Her dream job would be to
run a clinic similar to the ones she encountered at UB,
“where I would teach students how to craft and implement
policies that create more progressive communities.”
Place and ownership matter, she says, and that’s what
localism seeks to celebrate.