Sep 27, 2009 by Janelle Orsi
Yesterday, I moderated a panel discussion and had many great conversations at the Festival for Grassroots Economies, where brilliant ideas seemed to be generated, on average, every 2 seconds. My mind is still spinning from it all, but I thought I'd stop and try to capture at least a tidbit.
A memorable moment was when attorney Jenny Kassan boldly suggested that we need a local stock exchange to serve as a source of finance for small local businesses and to keep our investments in the community (as opposed to putting our savings into mutual funds and financing who-knows-what kind of companies). It's really a genius idea - it could create a simple way for each of us to share in owning and nurturing the businesses that serve us. We would choose to finance the businesses we feel could successfully enhance the character of our neighborhoods, provide a needed local service or product, create local jobs, and be accountable to the community. Most folks trading on the New York Stock Exchange don't take any of this into consideration.
Jenny Kassan cited Michael Shuman, author of The Small-Mart Revolution. Shuman recently blogged about the concept of local stock exchanges. A major reason we don't have local stock exchanges now, Shuman points out, is that securities laws have made it prohibitively expensive for small businesses to make a public offering. Shuman writes:
"The regulations prohibit the average American from investing in any small business, unless the firm is willing to spend $50,000 to $100,000 on lawyers to prepare private placement memorandum or public offering--thick documents with microscopic, ALL CAPS PRINT that no human being has ever been observed actually reading."
But Shuman suggests some simple changes to the securities laws, that could make it a lot easier for small businesses to seek investors. For example, he suggests that we could exempt from securities regulation any small businesses that issues $250,000 or less in total stock, offers the stock only to people living in the state, and allow each investor to purchase no more than $100 worth of stock.
In the same way that many of us have made micro-loans through organizations such as Kiva, we could make investments of a comparable size in businesses locally. We'll see the returns in many ways - not only in the growth of our investment money, but in the growth of flourishing businesses all around us.