There is a new book on the market entitled Locavesting: the Revolution in Local Investing, written by Amy Cortese, a former editor at BusinessWeek, who has also published articles for the New York Times Magazine, the DailyBeast.com and Mother Jones. I was prompted to buy it this summer, after continuously hearing all the negative reports about the stock market, the depressed housing market, and reading the stories of frustration experienced by everybody whose “nest eggs” were cracking!
“Surely there must be someplace to invest and make a little money," I reasoned and invested in the book (which I bought locally from a still extant bookseller in Lee, MA). In her book, Amy gives a little history lesson on IPOs (initial public offerings) and why it has been so hard for small companies to achieve stock market status – mostly due to all the cost of the legal work behind it.
So within her book she discusses ways that small companies can get around this conventional money-raising route and still involve community partners. One thing she discusses is the concept of community loan funds.
She begins that chapter with a story about a depressed area of Clare, Michigan which had experienced the fate of many downtown districts – that is, numerous store closings as a result of the hard-hit auto industry which had previously buoyed the economy.
Apparently, the 110-year-old bakery Clare City Bakery was about to close and the news came hard to the townspeople – particularly the police force. The story goes on to tell that the entire nine-member police force of Clare went to the owner of that bakery, asked her for a price to buy that bakery and reinvented it three weeks later, now calling it “Cops and Doughnuts” and getting all nine officers to invest in it and work at it!
The story goes on to say that it gained on all levels: business was brisk, marketing efforts (and gimmicky names for the doughnuts and tee shirts proclaiming “Don’t Glaze Me Bro”) were a success and other businesses in town gained from the increased foot traffic to the bakery. The whole idea to keep this bakery open for the good of the community was inspired by a sense of nostalgia for this town’s icon. Many of the investors had grown up with it and had warm memories surrounding it. So it was a win-win for everybody!
This is an extreme example of locavesting, but there are still ways that we can invest locally for our own and our community’s benefit. Community capital initiatives are out there, but one must do some homework to find them. One must also be mindful that the risk involved here is greater than that taken on by purchasing shares in a Wall Street sanctioned company. But one of the pluses is that small community loan funds do require financial reporting by the new entities and also provide the entrepreneurs some support by having advisories boards which help out. So although risky, there is some level of surveillance and mentoring of these companies.
It is also a little bit harder to find out about these opportunities and it might take a savvy investment advisor to help you to find them.
There are some websites however, that one may access to learn more about opportunities. For instance, the Institute for Self Reliance’s, "New Rules Project” has a website: www.newrules.com that discusses ways for community to protect their “main streets” (www.bigboxtoolkit.com).
There is also the Opportunity Finance Network which has a Community Development Finance Institution (CDFI) finder located on the web at www.opportunityfinance.net. A CDFI is a specific type of financial institution that serves the lower income or underserved communities and they are certified by the Treasury department.
I recently obtained funding for a Roslindale business via the Dorchester Bay Economic Development Council, a CDFI. At the “closing," I was told by one of the board members that one of the bigger investors to the fund was a “group of nuns” who wanted their collective money to do good for Boston communities. So, you’d better believe that I will give it my all to make this business run well and pay off that loan!
There are several other ways to be a locavestor. Crowdfunding is a new phenomenon which uses websites like IndyGoGo, Prosper.com, Kiva.com and Kickstarter, to help artists and entrepreneurs gain access to start up funds. Some of these organizations will get you your principal back, but don’t make big promises with regard to interest. However, one does gain the satisfaction that he has helped to fund a farming venture in a third world country (Kiva) or a struggling artist to produce an independent movie (Indygogo). At least your money is going towards a local economy and not straight into the pocket of Sam Walton’s (Walmart) family!
In the farming and food arena, Slow Money is (as defined in Wikipedia) is an initiative which organizes investors and donors to steer new sources of capital to small food enterprises, organic farms and local food systems. It utilizes network building through grassroots organizations (like ) to promote the concept of buying locally grown food and adherence to certain principals related to putting money back into local economies over the large food conglomerates. There have been several seminars related to this initiative and one may visit the website at www.slowmoney.org to find out more.
On a very microeconomic level here in Braintree, we can make some steps toward locavesting. Certainly, we can shop our Braintree and other local farmers markets to support Massachusetts small farmers and food producers.
The recent Bank of America hullabaloo over the debit card charges, is prompting many to switch to local banks. My Facebook page is chock full of friends recommendations of where to switch to – places like , , and S Bank.
Lastly, mindful shopping and soliciting the small shops of Braintree and its environs over the big boxes and malls is only achieved by sticking to the plan and not caving in to laziness (but is closer than Good Health!) or cheapness!
The words, “you get what you pay for” have never been truer, and if we sink all of our money into the multinational vendors who promise us cheap goods from China, then we have no one left to blame but ourselves when the stock market tanks.
Let’s start “putting our eggs” back into our neighbors’ baskets and see what the economy does!