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Big Business Hugs Small to Help Themselves

CHICAGO ( MainStreet) -- There's nothing like an election season -- combined with challenging economic times -- to get folks sentimental about the American Dream. The entrepreneurs and small-business owners who have toughed it out over the past few years have become powerful symbols of that dream.

Presidential candidates praise "Main Street" as the source of the country's greatness, while government officials cite entrepreneurs as a key to lowering unemployment rates. As large corporations lay off thousands of workers, small start-ups are lauded for their job-creation potential.

By demonstrating their support for the little guys, as Chipotle does with family farms, the big guys hope some of the virtues associated with independent businesses will rub off on them.

So perhaps it's no surprise big businesses have started to see the PR benefits to allying themselves with small businesses. By demonstrating their support for the little guys, the big guys hope some of the virtues associated with independent businesses will rub off on them, too.

The symbiotic relationship between large and small businesses is nothing new, of course. Almost every large company has some sort of partnership with independent suppliers that provide specialty parts or services. While suppliers might boast of their work for Ford (F) or Boeing (BA), the corporations usually had nothing to gain from publicizing such arrangements.

But now, with buy-local movements showing the connections between a town's economy and its citizens' buying habits, there are very real benefits to showing a large corporation has local roots. That's why we're starting to see more and more companies tout their work with small suppliers.

Take Chipotle (CMG - Get Report). Since its founding, the Mexican fast-food chain has differentiated itself from competitors by emphasizing that its ingredients were produced in a sustainable manner; one of the company's taglines is "Food with Integrity." Forming partnerships with farmers around the country ensures that the company's sourcing lives up to that promise.

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