Friday, September 6, 2013

Funny Money

Back in the mid-1990s, I saw a news story on how Ithaca, NY was experimenting with circulating its own town currency, called "Ithaca Hours." The idea was, you could only spend Hours in Ithaca, at local establishments. The money would therefore stay in town, circulating, building the local economy. And the residents would learn that keeping dollars from leaving town would keep the town properous.

This summer, I was surprised to find that Ithaca STILL uses its own currency, and their economy is stronger than ever.

Ithaca's not that different from Norristown. In 2011, their population was 30,054. Ithaca covers 6.1 square miles compared to Norristown's nearly 4 square miles. But, their unemployment rate (as of April 2013) was only 4.9% compared to our 7.3%. A lot of their people work at local businesses that take Ithaca Hours in trade.

Last night, I saw a news segment about Berkshire County, MA, which is also using its own currency, the BerkShare. Here's the video. It's only 9 minutes and explains how BerkShares work better than I can.

I'm not saying Norristown should have its own currency. Frankly, I wouldn't trust anyone down at Muni Hall to keep such an endeavor free of corruption and stupidity. But I think we can learn a lesson here in keeping our trade local. Buy from resident-owned businesses here in the borough when you can. Encourage those business to purchase their inventory, supplies and equipment locally when they can.

Perhaps a way to encourage this would be for in-town businesses to offer discounts to residents. Show your driver's license and get 5% off. Try it for, say, the holiday season, and see if it helps.

Whatever we do, our businesses need to organize. We NEED a Downtown Business Association. Ditto a North End Business Association. If they wait for our government to lead the way, nothing will change.

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