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Senior Correspondent

Good news! You can actually make a difference. At least you can if you enroll every one of your friends, and maybe even a few enemies.

How’s that?

Well, our manufacturing jobs have skedaddled off to Malaysia, China and Vietnam. No need to rehash all the reasons why. But, as someone who deals in international trade, I can tell you that all those containers that are coming across the Pacific Ocean…full…are returning empty.

To put it in perspective, in October alone, about 1.3 million 20-foot containers arrived at U.S. ports. (That was down 2 percent from last year, because retailers are expecting a slow holiday season. But it’s still huge!)

Thanks to all that importing, anywhere you look you can buy some useless trinket that’s made at almost slave-labor costs in some far-off giant factory. And worst of all, those trinkets are filling the shelves of Wal-Mart and putting yet another Mom-and-Pop store out of business.

Enter the email.

I delete about 95 percent of the email that lands in my box. Most of it is nonsense. But one I got this week was brilliant. This is what it proposed.

Think local. Think out of the box. Think “let’s pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.”

As the holidays approach, who says we need to buy things that we then wrap in glitzy paper produced in China (Heck, do they even know who Santa is?)

We keep hearing that we’ve become a service economy, right? Well, why not give each other services instead of filling the coffers of foreign manufacturers and mega-retailers? A side benefit is that we wouldn’t have to get up at 2 a.m. on Black Friday and risk life and limb outside the local Best Buy or Target to get one of the ten below-cost plasma TVs.

Let’s look at the alternatives.

Does your brother need his driveway resurfaced? Give him a gift certificate to a local service.  Are the handrails on his porch steps shaky? Cut a deal with a local contractor. Does your mother live in the snow belt and have no one to shovel her walkway? Pay a teenager enough to shovel her out all winter and tell her about it in a card. (And get your kids to make the card, or buy one from a local artist.)

Looking for something less pricey? Everyone loves to eat out and there are tons of local owner-run restaurants.  Give gift certificates. Do you know someone’s favorite breakfast eatery? Give them gift certificates for five breakfasts at the local coffee joint. Need to gift teenagers? What about pizzas from the local pizzeria?

What about maintaining our cars? I know someone would love a certificate for a car detail in a local detail shop, or a book of certificates for local car washes. Or oil changes.

What else could you do to stimulate the local economy more than the last failed attempt that cost us $787 billion? Give certificates to the local hair salon, nail salon or barber.  What about a gym membership…a month or two with a personal trainer…or a few sessions at the local yoga place?

The list is endless: lawn mowing, rounds of golf, house cleaning, dry cleaning, window cleaning, dog walking, baby-sitting and computer tune-ups for a start.

Local crafts people will gladly make customized gifts and local bakers will do the same. Local theaters offer holiday plays, or season tickets. Musicians play at local bars.

The key to finding the perfect gift is this: what does the person most hate to do, or not have the money to do, or absolutely love to do? Find one of those three things, get them a certificate for it and you can’t miss.

In return, your community will thrive. They say that if you buy a string of Chinese lights for five dollars, only fifty cents stays in the community. If you get more creative in your gifting, you can leave the majority of the money in the community. And save some local businesses in the process.

It’s time to take back holiday giving. It’s no longer about draining our pockets so another glittering city can be built in China. It’s about taking care of our own, and encouraging American small businesses to keep their doors open, and maybe even hire an extra employee or two. It’s about keeping the entrepreneurial dream alive.

It’s time for a new form of revolution: one of caring about each other.

And we can start right now!

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