Industry isn’t swarming into western North Carolina, but tourism attracts lots of visitors, positioning local businesses as the economic heartbeat of the area.
So Carolina Mountains Credit Union, a division of $564 million Self-Help Credit Union in Ashville, N.C., has launched a program allowing members to invest in a certificate of deposit aimed at financing local green businesses, community economic development projects and women and minority mortgage borrowers in western North Carolina.
Actually, Carolina Mountains has been investing in local businesses since 1974. The list includes firms such as Blue Ridge Biofuel, Casa del Bambini, West End Bakery, French Bread Food Co-Op and Glen Rock Commercial Building. But the local focus has been kicked up a notch through a partnership with Asheville Grows and a Go Local campaign.
There are currently 375 businesses displaying Go Local posters, allowing residents with Go Local cards to enjoy discounts on products and services. Now they can put their savings to work locally by buying a CD that will provide funds to local businesses.
The CDs range from three months to five years and offer rates from 0.25 percent to 1.25 percent. The program launched in late March and took in $150,000 in deposits the first week.
Mortgages are also involved, since they will remain at the credit union instead of being sold off. In fact, less than 1% end up on the secondary market.
Jane Hatley, Western North Carolina regional director for Self-Help, indicated the idea really got started a couple ways. The director of the Go Local movement approached Hatley to suggest using deposit money to support local businesses.
Then, at a conference called Venture Local, Michael Shurman, author of Local Dollars, Local Sense, spoke about the need to put money into local economies and businesses. One of recommendations was creating a local CD.
“That got us all fired up again,” Hatley chuckled.
Hatley checked to see if there was anything that would stop the credit union from creating such a certificate. No, but it would be important to track the money to make certain it did indeed go to local businesses. The credit union had a mechanism in place to do that.
Go Local has expanded beyond Ashville to cover 22 counties in western North Carolina. A franchise of a national chain wouldn’t qualify–although Hatley quickly noted that there is another program that could help.
As indicated, recordkeeping is a must to confirm money is indeed going to local businesses. Then there’s the fact interest rates are down, making CDs in general not as attractive as they were.
“But I also see this as an opportunity in the sense of focusing loan officers on going out and doing local outreach to make sure they’re looking at economic development that is right around wherever they are. I see it as more of a motivator than a challenge,” Hatley said.
She emphasized the value of tying a program like this to an existing Buy Local effort.
“Hook your wagon to a star, like the group here – any group that is trying to create a stronger local economy or has a Go Local campaign. If there isn’t one in your community, there are organizations that help those types of things get started,” Hatley said.
“Couple it with an educational campaign. One of the things that helped us is that we went to our local newspaper, The Mountain Express, and talked to them about doing a series of articles about why it’s important to keep money in your local community. They agreed to do a six-month series of articles.”