Invest local

Brasstown’s residents didn’t have much cash in the 1920s to build a school, but the tiny community at the westernmost tip of North Carolina managed to build one anyway. Neighbors pitched in with what they had: labor, land, timber and the very rocks from their farms. And lucky for them, some people also came forward with money.

Ninety years later, John C. Campbell Folk School is still enriching the Brasstown area, fueling its local economy with tuition revenues derived from the thousands who come each year from around the country to learn Southern Appalachian music and crafts.

Brasstown’s example shows how local investment matters, and how other communities — including larger towns like Asheville — can benefit from such focused activity.

Currently, Asheville, like most communities, funnels virtually all its investments — its savings, stocks and bond purchases, pension funds and inheritance money — out of town, to strangers who sell stocks in distant cities to benefit faraway projects (of sometimes dubious value to humanity).

Redirecting some of that money toward local ventures can be a game-changer for a community. By learning to invest funds right here in town, people and businesses will have more money to grow: to buy a home or car, or build their business and create jobs.

The good news is we’ve been moving in the right direction of late, thanks to Western North Carolina’s strong local food movement and Asheville’s burgeoning shop-local network. We eat local, we shop local — the next step is to invest local.

Shopping locally contributes to broader prosperity because it circulates the money regionally. But the next (and exciting) step is to infuse more money into the local money cycle, — by redirecting some of our traditionally (i.e., nationally) invested funds into local investments.

And to those of us who aren’t currently setting money aside for our dreams, there’s no better place to learn to save than in our own neighborhoods and towns, where we can watch and be rewarded by the results as they unfold and expand.

For example, you can get an interest-bearing note from Mountain BizWorks. Your money goes into a pool of loan funds for local businesses, whose owners are being trained by the organization. According to staffer Nathan Harlan, you can invest as little as $1,000, with flexible terms of one to 10 years, and earn a fixed-rate, annual simple interest return of 0-3 percent.

Another example: Self-Help Credit Union, also a champion of local and regional economies, is currently developing a locally targeted CD. Funds in this certificate of deposit will only go to businesses in 13 WNC counties.

As interest in local investing grows, other local financial institutions will likely develop their own local investment instruments.

We need to put our money where are our hearts are, where we know one another and see one another — where we have a key role to play, because we are the community.

To these ends, Xpress is herewith starting a series of columns about local investing, to show how such investing can and will change Asheville, and how the other communities across the country are already adopting similar local strategies.

The goal of the series is to build awareness and dialogue, and thereby encourage a widespread, grass-roots, invest-local movement. Besides individual investors, we’ll need our banks, credit unions, brokers and financial planners to join in the movement. We’ll need instruments like targeted CDs, self-directed IRAs, local investment clubs and maybe even a locally focused mutual fund.

In the coming weeks, we’ll be publishing columns by some of the people and institutions already at work. If you have ideas of your own, please get in touch. This is a community effort and we’ve got lots to do!

Jeff Fobes is publisher of Mountain Xpress. He can be reached by email at publisher@mountainx.com

— Jeff Fobes is the publisher of Mountain Xpress. He can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 109, or publisher@mountainx.com.

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About Jeff Fobes
As a long-time proponent of media for social change, my early activities included coordinating the creation of a small community FM radio station to serve a poor section of St. Louis, Mo. In the 1980s I served as the editor of the "futurist" newsletter of the U.S. Association for the Club of Rome, a professional/academic group with a global focus and a mandate to act locally. During that time, I was impressed by a journalism experiment in Mississippi, in which a newspaper reporter spent a year in a small town covering how global activities impacted local events (e.g., literacy programs in Asia drove up the price of pulpwood; soybean demand in China impacted local soybean prices). Taking a cue from the Mississippi journalism experiment, I offered to help the local Green Party in western North Carolina start its own newspaper, which published under the name Green Line. Eventually the local party turned Green Line over to me, giving Asheville-area readers an independent, locally focused news source that was driven by global concerns. Over the years the monthly grew, until it morphed into the weekly Mountain Xpress in 1994. I've been its publisher since the beginning. Mountain Xpress' mission is to promote grassroots democracy (of any political persuasion) by serving the area's most active, thoughtful readers. Consider Xpress as an experiment to see if such a media operation can promote a healthy, democratic and wise community. In addition to print, today's rapidly evolving Web technosphere offers a grand opportunity to see how an interactive global information network impacts a local community when the network includes a locally focused media outlet whose aim is promote thoughtful citizen activism.

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