Community-business collaboration: Share exchange helps keep dollars local

Communities businesses working together can create a viable economy that re-circulates dollars and celebrates locality as a strategy.

The Share Exchange of Santa Rosa, Calif. is a great example of community and business collaboration. Not only does it embrace the concept that the local economy can support itself more effectively, The Share Exchange continues to experiment with projects that allow for a progress. Their work was inspired by Ohio-based Evergreen Cooperative model and the BALLE initiative, seeking common sense local economic development that focuses on community needs.

This nexus of projects, established under one roof and focused on products made in a six-county region is developing import substitution to better circulate local dollars. This ability to plug the outflows of community dollars enhances the local economy by retaining and making greater buying power in the six counties. Identified community needs like food and energy help to build local business opportunities and lead to job creation that is meaningful.

Just as understanding nature demands that one must be in and experience it (ecopsychology), shared physical space moves beyond a virtual network and makes face-to-face interaction possible. This is necessary for rebuilding community relationships. A community that is bonded by personal relationships as well as economic relationships stays together.

The Share Exchange is committed to helping other communities learn new economy practices and helping nurture their efforts. The strategy to accomplish is made up of 4 components:

  • A retail storefront is maintained showcasing local goods.
  • Co-working space promotes problem solving and mentoring.
  • Business incubation that encourages and enables a new business to meet market demand profitably, which allows for growth and job creation.
  • Educational events based on localization, community building, entrepreneurship.

The organizational structure is made up of 3 entities. A worker-owned membership cooperative that is able to provide higher returns from commissions to members on their sales for work. A flexible-purpose corporation that is non-profit oriented and has the mission to incubate local companies. The third entity is also a nonprofit – Community Ventures of Oakland (CVO). CVO applies for grants and conducts public education and trainings related to the local economy via analysis and mapping.

The Impact of the organization is stunning. A total of 330 local artisans are able to sell through the store. This provides regular outlet space for them at a scale which attracts customers and keeps the artisans involved with each other on a regular basis, quite similar to the Marshall, Mich. Artist Co-op, East End. Incubation efforts have allowed individuals who have had an idea get to next step of launching and growing a business

The challenges encountered include getting public to move beyond short term vs. long term thinking. Understanding that true economic development needs to include entrepreneurship along with attraction and expansion of large firms is paramount. Getting others to have a comprehensive grasp that individual endeavors are just as, if not more important than letting someone else create it. Another Michigan success story is the Seeded Earth of Lawrence, Mich. Participating artisans share rented space and storekeeping duties.

Michigan State University Extension educators work with communities to teach best practices for economic development by providing research-based information and sharing examples from successful communities.

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