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Local currency project garnering support, gaining speed

by Eric Ginsburg

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Pittsboro Plenty bills. (website screenshot)

The idea of creating an alternative, local currency has been publicly discussed for two years in Greensboro, and now it is gaining momentum. The recent uptake in activity generated by Greensboro Currency Project suggests the idea could soon be a reality.

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Driven by a desire to support local people and businesses, a small but dedicated group of volunteers has pushed the project forward. They are in the process of drawing up a formal agreement with a local bank to back the currency, allowing people to trade it in for federal US dollars.

“We’re building the road as we travel,” said organizer Bob Foxworth, who has focused on outreach to goods and services providers. “For several years I’ve believed that local governance and community is our greatest hope. This is a way to knit the community together.”

The project coordinators are still taking suggestions for what to name the currency, which would be one of about 200 local currencies operating in the country. The closest project, launched in 2002, is the Pittsboro Plenty.

To prioritize outreach, the organizers are focusing on the four poorest ZIP codes in town, hoping the project will stimulate economic growth and job creation. However, they still invite any interested local business to participate.

The Greensboro model draws from examples throughout the country. As it stands, the plan is to create a paper currency that would initially carry the same value as one US dollar. Organizer Signe Waller Foxworth, who is married to Bob, said they would like to create plastic cards that could be swiped too.

“We want something that has very, very broad appeal and isn’t a huge leap into the future,” said Waller Foxworth. “We’ve generated momentum we can build on. I think it’s going tremendously well. Things are happening very quickly now.”

According to their timeline, the people behind the project initially hoped to formally launch the local currency this month. Now, rather than focus on a specific date, they will move forward once they sign up 50 founding business partners.

In the last two months, volunteers have stepped forward to help with specific projects, including a glossy brochure available for download on the project website. Local filmmaker Jeffrey Sykes created a promotional video, featuring endorsements from business owners and community members including former mayor Yvonne Johnson.

A small core of “trading partners” is already signed up, including restaurant owner Marikay Abuzuaiter, a car mechanic, Deep Roots Market and photographer Howard Gaither. Recently others have expressed interest too, ranging from local farmers to electrician Craig Bryant.

“I thought it would be a good way to help publicize me in the community and have clients that would pass me along,” Bryant said. “I’ve been involved in the chamber of commerce over the years and understand the joy and profitability of networking with other entrepreneurs.”

Bryant recently picked up an application to be a partner and wants to be a part of the planning and decision-making process as well.

The governing board will ultimately consist primarily of trading partners, but organizers are still figuring out exactly what form the board will take. Waller Foxworth said they are considering a cooperative structure.

Abuzuaiter began attending meetings after signing up as a trading partner in the spring.

“As a small business owner, I believe it can help us tremendously,” Abuzuaiter said. “They’re making sure that all bases are covered and that everything is a legal document. They’ve gone above and beyond.”

One of the benefits proponents hope to see once a currency is created is that people will spend more money at local businesses. In turn, more of that money, even if exchanged at the bank for US dollars, will be spent locally.

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Project coordinators assembled lists of hundreds of businesses to contact, but they are also reaching out to people that are already

working with the trading partners. Through this multifaceted outreach approach, they hope to build a network based on relationships.

Waller Foxworth emphasized that the founding 50 trading partners would indicate a critical mass of interest allowing them to move forward but that more partners would continue to sign up afterwards. In order to be a part of the founding 50, partners pay $200, half of which will be returned in local currency once the money is printed.

Barton Parks, a retired Guilford College professor, has been involved with the project for about a year because he sees it as a way to tangibly create social change.

“It’s a way to counter the rigged money system we live with,” he said. “The system is rigged upwards. Basically it keeps poor

people poor. This [project] would keep money circulating locally, and [we would] have local control.”

Waller Foxworth also explained the need for a local currency in terms of the problems with the current economy.

“There are much deeper structural reforms that need to be made in the monetary system,” she said, “and this is not a substitute for that.”

Bob Foxworth described the nation’s economy as a boulder under increasing pressure that was propped up by twigs.

“I’m concerned more and more about the national economy and the survival of the federal system,” he said. “This [local currency] will give us an economy even if the national economy collapses officially. I have great expectations, so to speak.”

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