A St. Paul-based think tank wants to expand the "buy local" mantra this holiday season to strengthen Minnesota's economy.

Minnesota2020, which believes it makes economic sense to support local manufacturers and retailers when possible, said it makes even more sense now. Regarding employment and personal income, Minnesota is struggling at a rate slightly worse than the national average, state economist Tom Stinson said.

The just-released report -- "Made in MN 2008: Boosting Minnesota's Economy in Tough Economic Times" -- states that if Minnesotans spent one-fourth of their holiday budgets on items made in Minnesota, more than $2 billion would trickle into the state's economy, possibly causing small and local businesses to hire more employees.

The report also indicates that 68 cents of each dollar spent with a local independent business circulates in the Minnesota economy. Buying from a national chain that does not have headquarters in the state contributes about 43 cents of each dollar spent, according to the report.

Are consumers heeding the "buy local" message? Not so much, said Britt Beemer of America's Research Group. More people (63 percent) say they plan to buy local this year, but only a third of consumers who said they planned to buy local last year (61 percent) actually did, Beemer said.

"Their good intentions fall by the wayside if the retailer isn't advertising," he said.

Without advertising, shoppers forget about them. Shoppers attracted to advertised early-bird specials the day after Thanksgiving are much more likely to shop those stores again, Beemer said.

Another factor? Convenience. Midwesterners will talk about buying local, but they don't like to drive out of their way.

A quick check among Mall of America shoppers last week bore that out. Lori Lonneman of Adrian, Minn., said she prefers American-made products and avoids products made in China when she can, but some of the items she had purchased from the Gap and DSW Shoe Warehouse that day were made in China. Dan Predesen of Plymouth said buying local doesn't factor into his buying decisions. He buys what he likes, regardless of where it's made.

Of 10 shoppers interviewed, only Michelle Quade of New Brighton had practiced buying local regularly. She recently attended the Maiden Minnesota event for Minnesota women-owned businesses, specifically sought out a special-occasion dress by local designer Joynoelle and had a meeting at her house catered by a neighborhood restaurant a few blocks from her house.

"I buy local," she said. "It does make a difference to me."

Local, independent businesses are hoping that shoppers will hear the "buy local" message this season. Julie Ingebretsen at Ingebretsen's Scandinavian gift shop in Minneapolis has seen the beginnings of a resurgence in buying locally made items.

"We expect good sales this year of our Swedish sausage and meatballs from the deli, and wood carvings and hand-painted rosemaling from local artists," she said.

Shoppers with good intentions but little time might want to head to an obvious choice: one of the Minnesota-themed gift shops. Plenty of wild rice, loon carvings and chokecherry jams can be found at the Love From Minnesota gift shops in Ridgedale, Mall of America, Roseville and the IDS Center in Minneapolis.

John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633