Vermonters Invest for a New Economy

At the second annual Climate Change Economy Summit convened by the Vermont Council on Rural Development, participants considered a new report, “Progress for Vermont,” which asserted (among many other things) that the transition to a renewable energy economy “presents an enormous economic development opportunity. New investments will be needed to fuel this transition across all sectors of Vermont’s economy.” (See vtrural.org for the full report.)

At the summit, a panel including lenders, an entrepreneur/investor, and state treasurer Beth Pearce explained how capital can be deployed to build enterprises that generate renewable energy, weatherize homes, and provide jobs in a variety of nonpolluting, low-energy-consuming businesses.

The next evening, at a gathering hosted by the Vermont Food Investors Network and Milk Money—a crowdfunding platform that enables small investors to support food enterprises—I met several entrepreneurs whose food and agriculture related businesses are creating value while preserving our working landscape.

We have come a long way since “socially responsible” investing meant screening out a few objectionable companies but still placing our trust (and resources) in Wall Street. Today, investors have many opportunities to be proactive and creative; we can be partners in building a new economy that is more environmentally sensible as well as more fair, democratic and smaller scale.

In fact, with the current volatility in stock markets caused by global uncertainties (oil prices, China’s economic slowdown, and more) and continuing low interest rates, putting our money into locally rooted and responsible enterprises seems more and more to be a smart investment decision.

As Eric Becker of the Food Investors Network told me, these companies feel more “real.” They’re literally more grounded, more down-to-earth. You can meet these entrepreneurs and get a sense of their passion and determination, their concern for community and environment. It’s a great feeling to help them build enterprises that support families, make wholesome products, and create a resilient local and regional economy.

Our colleagues at BALE, the White River valley sustainability group, have set up a local investment club that enables community members to pool their money to provide resources to small local businesses. Could we do something similar in the Woodstock region? Are there any readers who might be interested in exploring that possibility? Please contact me (rmiller9@sover.net) and let’s talk.

There are many resources for folks who might want to support local enterprise without having to organize a new formal group. Check out the Vermont Community Loan Fund (investinvermont.org), Milk Money (milkmoneyvt.com), or the Cooperative Fund of New England (cooperativefund.org) to find some easy options for small as well as large investors.

For more ideas, see Vermont Dollars, Vermont Sense by Gwen Hallsmith and Michael Shuman. (It’s online at resilience.org.) The book describes nearly thirty investment ideas that promote local self-reliance and keep financial resources recirculating within our communities. It offers various case studies of successful businesses and community endeavors, such as food coops, credit unions, and small producers. The authors explain why “‘local’ is all about building a community economy made up of humane relationships.”

We’re at a critical point where decisions we make about our money could have a big impact on the nature of the economy. Those who are fortunate enough to have surplus wealth to invest should move our resources out of fossil fuel industries and the Wall Street casino and into enterprises that truly support a sustainable economy that works for everyone.

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