The Berkshire-Columbia Investment Network : Supporting the Local Economy through an Association of Investors and Borrowers
On July 10th,2013, the Berkshire-Columbia Investment Network had its first regular meeting at the Quaker Meeting House in Great Barrington, Mass. About twenty people attended, most of them small investors anxious to help support the development of local business in the Berkshire-Taconic region of western Massachusetts and adjacent Columbia County, New York. Sauerkraut Seth, who developed his experience at the Hawthorne Valley Farm in Harlemville, N.Y., presented his product and his plans for expanding production. He was looking for about $50,000 to acquire a production facility and new machinery for fermenting cabbage. A local investor had already indicated she was willing to provide about $20,000. to help him expand his business. Seth was followed by David Frost, an engineer, seeking funding for his injection plastic molding business for which he was in the process of seeking a patent. He could foresee the growth of local production and saw the opportunity for a unique blending of the arts and industrial design and production in the Berkshires. Steve Nelson, a local businessman with many years of experience was interested in developing a local solar leasing company, pointing out that most solar leasing companies are large California based organizations who install solar equipment for free, sending electricity to the grid, and take their earnings out of state. Why not keep that capital here as well as expand local employment he asked. The last presenter was Michael Tesoro whose pasta sauce was a local favorite in Guido’s and other specialty food stores in the area. He too wanted to expand production and had recently negotiated a lease with the city of North Adams for an unused school building. He was looking for about $400,000 and was willing to consider giving an investor an equity position in the business.
Each presenter was faced with a host of questions and each responded quickly and well. Some had received help from Keith Girouad, the director of the Small Business Development Center in Pittsfield, whose task is to foster the development of small business in the region.
The Berkshire-Columbia Investment Network does not make any investment decisions as a group, nor does it recommend any particular investment. It sees itself as a matchmaker, or a conversation facilitator, replacing what used to exist in small towns and local communities, extended family networks and local banks that served local business and local entrepreneurs. It is in the process of becoming a membership association.The idea for creating a platform or a conversation between small organizations seeking funding and small or medium sized investors grew out of a set of talks between the members of the organizing group, Rich Lumma of Spencertown, NY, Chris Schaefer, Robin Zeamer and Maia Conty of Great Barrington, MA and Peter Buckbee and Marc Clifton of Philmont, NY. In particular we do not trust the large banks and Wall Street, where tired of not receiving any interest from our savings, and felt that a relationship should be created between local businesses needing funding and local investors wanting to support a local sustainable economy. The idea that we wanted to know how our money was working in the world, to connect our will and intentions to a transparent financial process which served the common good was also important to us. We were inspired by the LION ( Local Investment Opportunity Network ) initiative in Port Townsend, Washington, which over the last five years has put over 2 million dollars to work in their local economy.
Please contact one of our founding members for more information and about membership. You may download an Investor Member Application ($10 annual fee) or if you are a small owner you may download a Business Loan Application ($10 fee).