A simple formula adds up to big help for small business: 100,000 people x $50 spent at locally owned businesses = a $5,000,000 economic infusion.

That`s the thinking of Orville and Heidi Thompson and their team at Scentsy, a Meridian, Idaho-based maker of wickless, scented candles. The new campaign, Contribute 2009, culminates the week of October 12 with shopping throughout the country.

“We want to inspire an army 100,000-strong to go out and spend an extra $50 at locally owned small businesses in their community,” says Orville. “That`s a $5 million cash infusion that can create a ripple effect in communities across the nation.”

Having persevered despite three-quarters of a million dollars of debt at its founding, the Thompsons know what it means to struggle as small business owners. The company developed the Contribute 2009 campaign to celebrate its fifth anniversary in July when it gave a total of $100,000 to 40 small businesses in the Boise area by sending employees and suppliers into the community with $50 each to spend at two businesses.

The Boise Contribute results were inspiring. Scentsy employees also spent more than $10,000 of their own money to help local businesses. Skepticism from small business owners turned to gratitude when they saw there were no strings attached to this organized spend. Some owners were in tears. Others commented they didn`t think they would have survived the summer without it. “As a party plan company, our 35,000 independent consultants are all small business owners so they understand and empathize with other entrepreneurs,” continues Heidi. “We wanted to take our anniversary program to the next level. We thought that if each of our consultants pledges to spend $50 at a locally owned small business and then encourages friends, family and customers to do the same, we can create a groundswell of good and make an impact on local economies.”

In fact, dollars spent at community-based merchants create a multiplier effect in the local economy. The American Independent Business Alliance estimates that from each dollar spent at a local independent merchant, three or more times as much typically goes back into the local economy compared to a dollar spent at chain-owned businesses. A 2003 economic impact study in Austin, Texas by Civic Economics (commissioned by the Austin Independent Business Alliance), concluded for every $100 spent at a chain, $13 remained in the community while $45 remained when spent with hometown businesses.

Logo from Scentsy