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‘rCredits’ prepares launch of e-currency in Greenfield

— After a decade of planning, it’s official. Well sort of.

Common Good Finance, the nonprofit, Ashfield-based organization that’s been working for 10 years trying to bolster the local economy by setting up an alternative community- run bank, is setting up shop on Main Street in early December. Come March, the group plans to launch rCredits, a locally based currency, with a twist.

Unlike BerkShares, Ithaca Hours or even Greenfield Dollars, rCredits is a “next-generation community credit system” with electronic credits redeemable at participating businesses by people who agree to take part in the voluntary system.

A pilot version of the alternative currency system will begin with nearly 100 individuals – most of whom are among the dozen or so Greenfield area businesses that have expressed interest over the years.

In addition to a paperless system in which users can handle transactions on the Web, by texting or with a “smartphone app,” rCredits concentrates on enlisting businesses that agree to offer their employees some of their pay in rCredits to build the ranks of those partaking of this local “economic circle.” “In a way, we’re breaking new ground here,” says Joe Grafton, Common Good Finance development director. “What we’re doing is probably the first implementation of its kind.” And having a local office — the 200 Main St. storefront just west of Chapman Street and the Brass Buckle Cafe — demonstrates how close this local economy experiment is to becoming a reality.

“We think it’s really important that we have a presence here and are a part of what’s going on here as we try to launch a program that will benefit the businesses and community members around Greenfield,” says Grafton. “That’s a big thing, for us, to physically be here.” So how does it work?

“We’re not really giving people money. What’s happening is that we as a community are giving each other credit,” said Common Good Finance Executive Director William Spademan of Ashfield. “I agree to accept credit from you, you agree to accept it from me and we both agree to accept it from everybody else.” “When we started talking with managers at Green Fields Market, that pretty much gave everybody confidence that they’d have someplace to spend it immediately,” Spademan said. “Everybody can find something that they want to buy there, and Green Fields Market can pay their employees, so that makes economic circles, even with just one business.”

Along with Green Fields Market, other businesses that have agreed to participate include Snow’s Ice Cream, Mesa Verde and Real Pickles — 30 or so in all, according to Grafton, along with others waiting in the wings, saying they want to see if it can get up and running for a few months and all the bugs worked over time. “It’s a chicken-and-egg thing, where it’s like, ‘It sounds interesting, but we’d really like to see it actually in practice and working before I jump in,” he quotes some business owners as saying.

Gary Schaefer, who owns the School Street ice-cream business with his wife, Barbara Feingold, said the business’s four employees are “not necessarily part of this,” but added, “Somebody’s got to be part of it to get it started. The aspect where people may be on the fence is one more reason we decided to go with it. We’re doing this because as people and as a company, we’re open to alternative ways of doing business, legal, obviously. “

And this seems like one of the most likely to succeed methods, partly because of its electronic nature. We’re optimistic about it and wanted to play a role in its rollout and see if it could work.” Green Fields Market’s Patti Waters said some of the 75 employees at the Greenfield co-op and McCusker’s Market have expressed interest, but she said it’s been “a while” since the workers were polled about it. “They expressed interest and a willingness to find out more information and give it consideration. That’s as far as we’ve ever gotten. We’re ready to participate, but we’re waiting for the critical mass to appear.” Real Pickles co-owner Dan Rosenberg with his wife, Addie Rose Holland, said, “There’s a lot of enthusiasm on the staff, and Addie and I are pretty excited about Real Pickles participating and trying it out. It seems like a real interesting idea,” especially since the 12 or so staffers were asked where they shop. “Certainly Green Fields Market was a key, and to the extent there are more participants in the system that people do business with, the more comfortable our staff will feel having more of their pay coming in rCredits instead of U.S dollars.” Spademan says, “What we found is that the main thing people are afraid of is that it will be too much trouble, so we’ve put a lot of effort into making it easy for businesses and customers to use.” With that in mind, the new Greenfield office is seen as a place where people can get help in using the system as well as to learn more about how it works, at meetings and with one-on-one help, according to Grafton. An open house is planned there for Dec. 13.

Spademan, who has set aside the idea of establishing an alternative bank because this is a simpler, less costly way of achieving the same ends, said the idea is to “give the people of Greenfield and surrounding communities a way to crank up the local economy … More importantly, rCredits gives everyone a voice in how we … work together as a community to manage our own economic future.” In fact, Spademan is confident enough that rCredits will work that he believes employees will opt to accept their entire pay that way to get a 10 percent bonus of credits that is being offered initially and then convert some back into dollars to pay into the mainstream economy.

And although it’s likely a ways off, he sees the day when local banks might handle those exchanges, just as several Berkshire County banks now do with Berkshares, the local currency in circulation there since 2006.

Spademan says his organization, which expects to spread this model to other parts of the country to meet the unique needs of each local economy, picked Greenfield as a test because it’s economically mixed, with a significant low-income population, since “We expect that this system will be most beneficial to people who have the least. And Greenfield, in our judgment, is open to economic innovation and has a great mix of locally owned businesses.”

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