Town Hall Attendees Cast Their Vote for Local Investing

Robert Mauger, leader of the Coalition’s Economic Vitality Action Team, provides a summary of the team’s current projects at Town Hall 2013.

Among the many highlights of Town Hall 2013 was an opportunity for attendees to vote for the next project of the Sustainability Coalition’s Economic Vitality Action Team.

The team had identified three projects to help advance a sustainable economy in Corvallis, and they invited Town Hall attendees to vote on the one that should have the highest priority.

The first option was to establish local investing options for small local investors.  In most cases, the only people who can legally invest in businesses are what the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) calls “accredited investors” – individuals whose net worth, or joint net worth with a spouse, exceeds one million dollars.  But the laws are changing and new legal structures for the sharing economy are being developed, making it possible the large majority who aren’t millionaires to invest their money outside of Wall Street and into local business owners who need capital.

Local investment networks have been established in communities like Port Townsend, WA, and Madison, WI, as a way to connect local investors with local businesses that need loans. It’s a powerful alternative to Wall Street, and a way for everyday folks like you and me to keep more of our money circulating in Benton County, stimulating our local economy.

The second option was to develop capacity for local food processing.  The Willamette Valley is one of the richest agricultural areas in the world, and there many small and mid-sized farms located in and around Benton County.

But for most diets, local residents rely not only on agriculture but also the ability to process food.  It make no sense either economically or environmentally, it was argued, for tomatoes grown in the Willamette Valley to be shipped out of the area to be processed and then transported back to Corvallis to go up on local grocery shelves.  Corvallis has a lot of people with ideas for start-up food businesses who want to expand their businesses outside the kitchen, but they don’t have the capacity to build a full-scale commercial kitchen.   Developing the local food infrastructure in the Willamette Valley means not only advancing production, but also developing the capacity for processed, value-added products for consumption in our community.

The third option was to partner with the local arts community to promote the arts as an economic driver. This year, three of Corvallis’ most vibrant arts organizations are celebrating important anniversaries: it’s the 50th anniversary of The Arts Center, the 25th for da Vinci Days, and the 100th for The Majestic Theatre.  Mayor Manning has proclaimed 2013 as “The Year of Culture” – a citywide effort to celebrate these milestones and to promote the cultural richness of the Corvallis area as a whole.

The proposed project was to find ways to promote our local artistic and creative culture – as a way to meet all three aspects of sustainability: environmental, social, AND economic. It was explained that when we support the creative arts, we support ways of nourishing our need for beauty and meaning without significantly increasing our ecological footprint.  And a thriving arts and culture scene can help keep local dollars in our community.

Following discussion of the three options, attendees voted: 146 votes for local investing, 108 for food processing, and 31 for the arts as an economic driver.  Many who voted for local investing saw it as a way to support the other two projects.

The Economic Vitality Action Team hopes to tackle all three projects in the near future.  But, for now at least, local investing appears to be the top priority.