Anniversary Issue: The money at home - Page 3

A sustainable local economy starts with small business — and the public sector

It's more than just shopping; it's about thinking about your community first.

The impact: more than 60 percent of Bellingham residents in a recent poll reported that they now think about finding local sources for their goods and services.

One key to all this, Doug Hammond, executive director of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, told us, is access to community capital. "If that's not available, you never get out of the gate," he said.

BALLE, a seven-year old organization with headquarters in San Francisco, works with 20,000 members to promote small, locally-owned businesses and initiatives to sustain healthy economies — and healthy communities.

Community capital means "financing to support innovation," Long said, "from people who are willing to look at what we call living returns — something that works for the lender and for the borrower."

There are, Hammond notes, "almost no resources for locally-owned, independent businesses. It's a disproportionately-tilted playing field."

Hammond, who took over as BALLE's director this month, was startled to learn that San Francisco puts all its money — its payroll accounts, tax accounts, and so forth — in North Carolina-based Bank of America. That's not a local bank. It's not an institution that supports local businesses, and the money it makes doesn't circulate in San Francisco.

Cities that want sustainable economies, he said, need "locally-owned common-good banks" that will invest in small loans to local businesses — and be willing to accept fair, but not excessive, returns. "If the city was willing to put some of its working money into that kind of a business, it would be a huge start," he told us. "That kind of thing is the low-hanging fruit."

The mayor has spent a lot of money on staff and programs that promote his image as environmentally conscious. But what he really needs, Hammond said, is a "local-first czar," someone at City Hall who has the mandate — and the authority — to promote a sustainable economy.

"There has to be a baseline for local procurement," he said. "How much of the city's resources go back into the local community? What are the ways to make those resources community controlled again?"

San Francisco is a peninsula, but it isn't an island. The city can't operate entirely independent of the rest of the world. But at a time when global capital is in crisis, and fossil fuel use is threatening ecological catastrophe, and few people in Washington or Sacramento are offering true progressive solutions, San Francisco should be leading the way toward a model for a locally sustainable economy.

It's not impossible. It's not even that hard. It just takes political will.

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