Ithaca Blog

Thursday, February 01, 2007

National Attention for Local Currency: Ithaca Hours in Communities Magazine

It's a fair bet that, world-wide, more people outside Ithaca than in Ithaca know about Hours, Ithaca's own money.

Total number of people, we mean. Not percentage-wise.

Hours has been featured on ABC News, on the BBC, in Forbes magazine, Harper's magazine, and in journals and on radio throughout North America, South America, Europe, and Asia.

Still, a local currency is valuable to the extent that local people are familiar with it. So let us share some recent national publicity for Ithaca Hours: excerpts from an article that appears in the winter edition of Communities magazine. The theme of the edition is Helping Your Local Economy Thrive. The article is simply titled, Local Currencies. It is used by permission of its author (myself!). - SB

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Ithaca is a small town in central New York. Located far from the financial hub of New York City, Ithaca is closer to northern Rust Belt and Snow Belt cities ravaged by rising energy costs and vanishing jobs. Underemployment is a perennial problem in Ithaca, where a large workforce in a competitive work environment translates into low wages.

Ithaca Hours was planned as a local money to build the town's economy without depending on scarce dollars. The idea was to create a completely new revenue stream to promote jobs and trade. Dollars could be saved for other purposes.

Ithaca Hours is a member-based organization. Anyone is welcome to use Hours. But members sustain the system with an annual fee of $10 (or its equivalent, one Hour). This fee brings each member an annual disbursement of two Ithaca Hours, worth $20. With about 500 members currently, this constitutes a flow of $10,000 worth of new money into the local economy each year. Since its start in 1991, the system has put well over $100,000 worth of currency into circulation.

Members are listed in annual Directory that acts as a Yellow Pages for the goods and services they offer. Hours prints 5,000 Directories and circulates them throughout the area all year. The Directory is also online (, so new entries can constantly be added, unlike the Yellow Pages.

At first, the Hours system consisted primarily of people trading services. Businesses questioned accepting a currency they couldn't use for expenses such as utilities, taxes, and goods purchased outside the community.

But as membership in Hours grew, businesses saw the advantages of reaching a large group of people with money they were eager to spend.

Hours are a particular advantage in competing with chain stores which do not accept local currency. While not devoid of chain stores on the fringes of town, Ithaca is one of the few cities in the region today with a healthy and attractive downtown.

Businesses can make sure they do not amass more Hours than they can use by setting their own acceptance policies. Most accept a limited percentage of Hours per transaction. But some aggressive businesses accept 100% Hours, for a very distinct competitive advantage.

Local currencies demonstrate what economists call a multiplier effect: because they do not leave their locality, they increase local activity. For example, an Hour spent at an independent book or music store will soon be spent at another local business, while a percentage of each dollar spent at a Borders outlet will soon leave the community for the company's corporate headquarters.

Hours makes interest-free loans to members wishing to start or build businesses. The system also makes regular grants to charities and community groups.

Besides its economic utility, a local currency builds community spirit and pride. Hours users find that the act of spending them leads to conversation and comraderie, something a Visa card generally doesn't do. Local currencies such as Ithaca Hours show the power of ordinary people to solve even the toughest problems (not enough money!) with creative action, taken together.

Stephen Burke

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