Money Matters: report from a Local Economy Action Group member
I never took an economics class. I don't read the Wall Street Journal. Why, then, have I joined the Transition Asheville Local Economy group?
Well, for the opportunity to learn more! And because, although Asheville pulses with local businesses, there is always need to improve the funding and support of new and sustainable efforts, especially in the areas that most concern Transition: energy, food, transportation, building.
Recently, several Asheville Transitioners went to "Venture Local", a forum sponsored by The Blue Ridge Entrepreneurial Council and "designed to promote local entrepreneurship opportunities across Western North Carolina."
In the course of the fascinating afternoon, we heard from local businesses such as Carolina Ground (local stone mill), Carolina Bison (yes, you guessed it, all about those big bovines), Spiritex (organic cotton sports wear), Blue Ridge Biofuels (fuel from restaurant waste oil)--these folks were not promoting their products, but telling us of the work behind the business.
That work includes: finding funding, often in new and unconventional ways, like crowd funding or through the growing "Slow Money ' movement; creating new business models which reflect a 'triple bottom line' that includes, in addition to profit, social and environmental benefit; trying to locate local suppliers or processors for their product, in a post- NAFTA world where so many factories and manufacturers have gone oversees.
Each and every one had a story to tell and was inspiring in their dedication to staying local, staying sustainable and providing quality products.
Later in the forum, a panel of local folks spoke, who are involved in the funding end of things; this included Kevin Jones, a social capital advisor (working " at the intersection of money and meaning"); Shaw Canale of Mountain Biz-Work ("we like job creation the very best"); Jane Hatley of the Self Help Credit Union (one of whose focuses now is loans to 'green industries').
Two other "out-of-town" but still " in the spirit of local" speakers were Christine Ageton of BALLE (Business Alliance for Local Living Economies), a "network of networks", which"believes that local, independent businesses are among our most potent change agents, uniquely prepared to take on the challenges of the twenty-first century with an agility, sense of place, and relationship-based approach others lack." (whew!) and Erin Erenburg of Indiegogo.com, a 'crowd funding' Internet site.
Christine shared an inspiring story of local businesses in Phoenix AZ which, after hearing that the city government planned to give a contract to a big box business, for office supply needs, formed a study group to look into the economic benefits of using local businesses instead. The numbers proved that using local suppliers would have a magnifying effect on the dollars spent, and made good economic sense; the city government woke up and changed their practices!
Erin took us to the IndieGoGo site and walked us through the process by which individuals or groups, seeking funding for a wide range of projects (a WIDE range!)can create a pitch, offer perks or tax deductions to the contributors in lieu of offering profit (the projects always keep 100% ownership), and then can get the word out by being featured on the IndidGoGO homepage, placed in the press, or exposed via social media.
The afternoon closed with a Farm to Table networking reception, where we sampled local food and talked with one another about what surprised, fascinated or inspired us--there was plenty to ponder. My take-away from the day was that there is definitely a shift happening in how business does business, from how funding happens to what people expect to get out of investing in a business or project (check out "L3Cs"!); in light of general reaction to the excesses of Wall Street, it is time to spread the word that there are alternatives to the stock market and to sending one's money off to 'far from local' banks.
Projects and organizations mentioned in this story:
- http://ncobfp.blogspot.com/2010/10/carolina-ground-l3c.html (Carolina Ground)
- http://socialcapitalmarkets.net/ (Kevin Jones)
- http://www.fastcompany.com/blog/lydia-dishman/all-your-business/l3cs-eme... (L3Cs)