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Published: 12/12/2004

Toledo! Let's print our own money

This city is in pitiful financial shape, and I'm doing my best to help.

In Thursday's column, I took a page from the playbook of the woman who sold her dead father's "ghost" on eBay.

My suggestion was that we band together to hawk our unwanted stuff on eBay and give the proceeds to our cash-strapped city.

I figured this brainstorm would be helpful if it made a few people chuckle, lifting the municipal mood. So imagine how amused I was when I belatedly picked up that week's Time magazine and learned one city really IS turning to eBay for revenue.

"When it comes to municipal penny-pinching the Second City is full of firsts," Time reported. "Last week, the city's department of cultural affairs launched a two-week 'Great Chicago Fire Sale,' hoping to raise at least $250,000 for its financially strapped arts programs via an eBay auction of Windy City items. "

Well, today I'm offering a suggestion in earnest. Toledo, let's print our own money.

Ithaca, N.Y., has been doing it for nearly 15 years, and no one's prosecuted them yet. They call their homemade currency an Hour, and it's valued at $10 - the average hourly Ithaca wage when they began in 1991.

Some 400 local Ithaca businesses now accept Hours, which is the point: Circulating city-specific scrip keeps local dollars local.

"Since this is money with a boundary around it, it bounces around. It shakes more hands than dollars do," Paul Glover, the Ithaca resident who came up with the idea, was quoted as saying.

When local businesses accept currency with only local value, that money changes hands within the community more frequently.

A study this summer by the University of Toledo's Urban Affairs Center gives some idea of how much impact this can have.

Focusing on one locally owned business, Thackeray's Books, the study concluded that the Westgate store's annual impact on the Toledo economy is $5 million.

(Note, though, that Thackeray's was among the study's financial contributors.)

Gbenga Ajilore, the assistant professor of economics who conducted the study, concluded that "more of Thackeray's revenues stay within the local economy through their use of local labor, local suppliers, and profit. In the case with a national chain, revenues stay within the community usually only through wages to employees."

Hometown money is one of those ideas that's so simple, you'd never think of it. By now, some 20 other cities around the country have taken advantage of Mr. Glover's good idea. (The Cleveland suburb of Lakewood is now considering it.)

To help local stores, the UT economist who studied Thackeray's impact said local government might encourage a 'Buy Local' campaign.

But we could do better than that.

Toledo, get out your printing presses!

(Learn about Ithaca's program at ithacahours.org.)



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