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Natural Awakenings

Community Currency: Private Mints on the Upswing

Oct 31, 2011 10:50AM

A local currency movement is again emerging as a way to focus business capital, especially consumer spending, on community economies.

BerkShares illustrate the phenomenon.  First issued in 2006 in the southern Berkshires region of Massachusetts, more than 2 million of these paper notes are currently in circulation. One hundred BerkShares can be purchased for $95 at one of five local banks and exchanged at participating merchants with the same purchasing value as U.S. dollars.

The program provides consumers an incentive to keep the notes active and shop and dine locally in the 400 neighborhood businesses that accept them. “At the moment, we’re a very sophisticated ‘buy local’ program,” says Susan Witt, co-founder and administrator of BerkShares, Inc., “but the potential to move to an independent currency is built in.”

Networking is key. Some local currency success stories include New York’s Ithaca Hours, North Carolina’s Plenty and Wisconsin’s Madison Hours, but others have not survived, despite sometimes extensive marketing support.

BerkShares continue to represent a relatively small part of the region’s local economy. Witt says: “In the short term, it’s about educating people about local economies. In the long term, it’s transforming the institution of money. We’re not there yet. But everyone knows what BerkShares are.”

Source: Adapted from E/The Environmental Magazine.

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