Business Showcase Gives Skagit County Agency in Deciding Who We Want to Be

Monday, October 01, 2018

What if our investments helped to transform our community?  Instead of investing in corporations without a personal or economic connection to the community, it is possible to “invest in community businesses and social enterprise” (Balle, 2018).  This movement is based on the concept of creating an ecosystem where local residents can invest in businesses and social enterprises that stimulate the economy and create jobs, but just as importantly, become part of a community’s fabric and culture.

Ultimately, place-based investing gives investors greater agency over how they invest and the impact they can make with that investment.  Local lending groups have been successful throughout the region, including in nearby Port Townsend and Whidbey Island.  These groups facilitate conversations between friends, making it easier for community members with capital to support local entrepreneurs.  Eric Shen, one of the Transition Fidalgo founders, views these local lending initiatives as an opportunity for the community to come together and decide what types of businesses they want to see in Skagit County.  Community members can choose to support local entrepreneurs that embody the core values found throughout the region, such as environmental stewardship, fair trade, and community connectedness.  “Local lending gives people in the community a voice.  If they want to see more coops develop, they can help to make that happen.  There are very few opportunities for individuals to say specifically what they would like to see a community look like and to act upon it.  This is a great way to do that,” Shen commented.

For example, in Port Townsend, LION members helped to fund the Finnriver Farm & Cidery in Chimacum.  Community members met owner Crystie Kisler, enjoyed the taste of her cider and blueberry brandy, and then had a friendly conversation about what she would need to grow the cidery (Arthur, 2017).  Afterwards, community members structured loans to the cidery based on terms they negotiated on an individual basis.  This is an example of how local lending initiatives come down to people helping people based on common interests and goals.  By lending to the cidery, community members have helped to build an operation that generates millions of dollars in revenue each year.  In return, the cidery contributes to the community by offering classes on sustainable soil development, fruit growing techniques, etc.  Through partnerships like these, Port Townsend residents have created an ecosystem where everyone can learn from each other, become more involved with the community and make it grow in an authentic way.

Skagit County residents have the opportunity to create something similar through an initiative spearheaded by Transition Fidalgo, with assistance from Cindy Brooks of the Washington Small Business Development Center.  On October 1, community members will gather for a Business Showcase and discussion of local lending.  Eric Shen and Cindy Brooks will be on hand to answer questions and help to guide the conversation.  Ultimately, it will be up to community members to decide if they want more agency in determining what Skagit County will become.  If there is enough interest in local lending, more formal conversations will be held around how to connect interested community members with the entrepreneurs who could benefit from their capital and mentorship.  As Shen stated, “The goal is for local businesses to succeed.  The group is meant to be more casual and altruistic.”

Those interested in attending the meeting can visit the Village Pizza in Anacortes on October 1 from 6:00 PM to 8:30 PM or contact Eric Shen at sydster2@wavecable.com.

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