Local spending, shared resources explored at Invest Local Conference

[caption id="attachment_81449" align="alignleft" width="220"] Janelle Orsi[/caption]

SANTA ROSA -- Developing circles of relationships that result in dollars and jobs staying in North Bay communities, as well as sharing resources and transition today's business models toward partnerships, cooperatives and bartering networks will be effective in the emerging "new economy," according to speakers at the Invest Local Conference.

Keynote speaker Janelle Orsi, an attorney as well as a co-founder and director of the Oakland-based Sustainable Economies Law Center, urged attendees to create and patronize local enterprises that utilize resources in the immediate area and increase local production.

Other options include worker- and/or consumer-owned cooperatives -- where profits and dividends go back to these groups based on purchases made, or each individual's share of the workload.

"We all believe in democracy, so why not extend this concept to the workplace," she said. 

For Ms. Orsi, her "Clothes Loop Economy" means buying blue jeans, for example, made from local fiber, textiles, labor and production facilities, as well as by utilizing local designers, marketers and distributors.

Organized by The Leadership Institute for Ecology and the Economy and the Sonoma County Go Local Cooperative, with support from Slow Money North Bay, and other community members, the Invest Local Conference attracted more than 100 attendees.

Representatives from food-production and alternative-energy businesses topped the list of local enterprises showcased during the conference.

Community-supported agriculture (CSA) was a key example. In it, consumers buy shares of the harvest in advance, sharing the risk, rewards and sometimes the work with farmers. Examples of businesses using a collective model include the Alvarado Street and Arizmendi Bakeries.

"The ideal situation would be to create a currency that could not leave the community, such as a barter system exchanging locally baked bread for legal services or future paybacks in kind," Ms. Orsi added.

The Local Investing Movement panel included Scott Collier of Slow Money, Carolyne Stayton of Transition USA and Leah Jeanne Klerr from the public banking sector.  

Ms. Klerr said the Sonoma New Economy Project was launched with goal of establishing a public bank within county government to help create a more democratic and sustainable economy.

Area residents should consider "investing in sustainable local agriculture for financial return and social impact as if food, farms and soil fertility really mattered," Mr. Collier said.

Panelists pointed to business models such as Petaluma's Tara Firma Farms pre-purchase meat program, and CropMobster, which uses social media to link local farmers, producers and purveyors with excess food to communities that need that food.

Marco Vangelisti of Essential Knowledge for Transition (EK4T.com) said there's a need for people to get involved by investing time and money and becoming a partner in finding "soul solutions."

He said four movements are converging:"Impact investing" for positive outcomes.Social enterprises, where businesses wanting to do good use profits to support such efforts.Crowdfunding law.Relocalization movement, bringing the production of food, clothing, energy, and other goods back home to local communities.

Regulatory framework for crowdfunding comes from the Jumpstart Our business Startups (JOBS) Act of 2011. The law allows for a wider pool of small investors with fewer restrictions.

Examples of new-economy business models in the region looking for partners and investors are:LocaStores, a West County franchise chain of produce stands offering $100 gift certificates for $90 as a way to invest and earn a 10 percent ROI.CropMobster.North Bay Institute of Green Technology in Santa Rosa, provides training, job placement and retention of low-income, unemployed or underemployed youth for careers in green collar jobs.The YEP Project, educating young entrepreneurs with skills needed to run a business. It launched its first enterprise, the Go Bean Express, in the Boys and Girls Club at Montgomery Village serving to-go coffee and foods and training YEP interns as certified baristas.  Hip Chick Farms, in Sebastopol, making heat-and-serve chicken fingers, meatballs and wings using free-range chickens and humane farming techniques.Spiral Foods Cooperative, a local Sebastopol food market with 360 members that strengthens community from farm to table through ecological responsibility and cooperative ownership.Preserve Sonoma, a small- to medium-run co-packer based in Sebastopol offering food preservation, processing and packing services to farmers, entrepreneurs and retailers.

Local alternative-energy projects and businesses featured at the conference were:Sonoma Clean Power, a new, locally controlled electricity provider and an alternative to PG&E in Sonoma County scheduled to begin service in May 2014.Sunspeed Enterprises of Rohnert Park, is developing the first network of electric vehicle charging station hubs along the Pacific Coast Highway and is seeking first round VC and angel investor funding.Switch Vehicles, maker of three-wheel electric vehicles that are sold assembled or as a kit by this Sebastopol firm.Sol Solutions of Santa Rosa, providing portable solar power generators and towers to produce and store energy in batteries for LED lights and off-grid home power systems.

"There are many ways to acquire funding needed to start a business," said Terry Davis, chief financial officer of Santa Rosa-based nonprofit lender SAFE-BIDCO.

He pointed to programs through the U.S. Small Business Administration, AG, U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Service Agency, Rural Loan Program and Northern California Native American Loan Program as well as microloans and energy-efficiency loans.

He said the California Business, Transportation and Housing Agency's Small Business Loan Guarantee Program allows SAFE-BIDCO to work with local lenders to provide guarantees -- up to 80 percent -- for a wide range of business loans and lines of credit with a low 2 percent guarantee fee.

The conference was held Sept. 26 at the Flamingo Hotel in Santa Rosa.

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