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This week marks the official publication of Post Carbon Institute’s first handbook on local investment, written by myself and Gwen Hallsmith.
Vermont Dollars, Vermont Sense, builds on my 2012 book on local investment, Local Dollars, Local Sense: How to Shift Your Money from Wall Street to Main Street and Achieve Real Prosperity.” The new handbook presents 28 specific tools for promoting local investment, and presents examples of people, initiatives, and programs in Vermont carrying out each of them. We are now planning similar handbooks for several states in the Pacific Northwest, and hope that ultimately there will be an edition for every state in the nation.
Why did we start with Vermont? The state has a long history of community resilience, from local food and energy systems to town meetings. More recently, Vermonters have taken the lead in reclaiming that tradition, for example by setting a goal of 90 percent renewable power by 2050 (Burlington, the state’s largest city, has already hit that goal). We also were impressed with the state’s long embrace of local investment. One of the earliest and best examples was carried out by two ice cream entrepreneurs named Ben and Jerry in 1984, who insisted that shares in their initial public offering be owned solely by Vermonters.
Whether or not you live in Vermont, here are the top ten reasons you might want to take a gander at this handbook (Spoiler Alert: the #1 reason is that it’s free!):
(10) It’s Important – Americans are still putting almost 100 percent of their long-term savings into Wall Street, even though more than half the economy is made up of locally owned businesses that are highly profitable and competitive. If you think that Wall Street has too much power, then stop wishing for change, and start putting your money where your idealism is. This handbook will show you how.
(9) It’s Easy to Do – No matter how much money you have, there are local investment tools right for you. For example, if you have limited means, the handbook will show you the importance of pooling local resources with other members of your family to buy a house, or just putting your savings in a local bank or credit union. Investors with more means can begin to invest locally through self-directed IRAs, solo 401ks, or investment clubs.
(8) It’s Profitable – If you’re a business looking for new sources of capital, you’ll be astonished at expanding array of the tools available: wealthy local investors, program-related investments by local foundations, cooperatives, pre-selling, sponsorship web sites (like Kickstarter), peer lending websites (like KivaZip), employee stock ownership plans, and public offerings.
(7) It Shows Exciting Opportunities for Financial Specialists — If you’re a financial industry specialist interested in providing local investment tools to your clients, you’ll find a bunch of promising growth opportunities for your skills: new credit unions, local investment funds, local mutual funds, local stock exchanges.
(6) It Highlights Cutting-Edge Policy Reforms – If you’re a policy wonk interested in promoting reform of state securities laws, you’ll get a glimpse of what’s happening right now at both national and state levels. Did you know, for example, that Maryland recently passed a reform that allows any company to borrow up to $100,000 from Maryland residents (up to $100 per resident) with almost no legal paperwork whatsoever?
(5) It Provides Great Organizing Tools – Even if you’re a social activist, you’ll find easily implemented tools for your community. You could deploy a website listing local investment opportunities and local investors. Or you could organize a Local Investment Opportunity Network (LION), where local investors and businesses meet, kibitz, and form relationships monthly.
(4) It’s Relevant for Any State – Non-Vermonters will find tools that they can use or develop themselves. In fact, we’d love to work with you to develop a version for your state
(3) It’s Practical – The late economist Kenneth Boulding used to say, “Anything that exists is possible.” Almost all the tools in the handbook are happening somewhere in the United States. If there’s any part of you that thinks that local investment is impossible, this handbook will dispel those beliefs instantly.
(2) It’s Inspiring – You’ll read incredible stories about what people like you have done. Like how Vermonters investing in the City Market Onion River Cooperative typically get a better return than investors on Wall Street. Or how the Vermont State Employees Credit Union provides more affordable loans than big banks. Or how Duane Peterson of SunCommon moved his investments into Vermont businesses.
So the only remaining question is this: What are you waiting for?
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