|HOUR TOWN: Examples of local currencies: the Ithaca hour (top) and RiverHour, good in Hood River and surrounding localities.|
Sexton, the 34-year-old owner of a Web development company, wants to revitalize locally a community currency concept that first surfaced nationally in Ithaca, N.Y., in 1991.
The idea is to keep money circulating locally—instead of leaking out of state—by developing a paper note, or scrip, known as an "Hour" that's accepted only by local businesses.
Thus, a tomato grower at your local farmers market could accept Hours as payment, then turn around and spend those Hour notes to buy gardening tools at a local hardware store that also accepts Hours. The result, Hour backers say, is a better chance that shoppers buy from locally owned stores than from, say, Home Depot, which funnels money to its headquarters in Atlanta.
(Such community-based currency programs are OK as long as the currency doesn't resemble U.S. dollars and is not in coin form.)
Since the concept began in Ithaca 16 years ago, Forbes magazine estimates the city of 29,000 people has issued, as of February 2006, the equivalent of $100,000 in Hours. Closer to home, in Hood River, businesses have been accepting their own Hour notes, each with a value equal to $10, since September 2004.
Community currency programs are often short-lived. A local currency exchange called Cascadia Hours began in the early '90s, and organizers still meet monthly. But it's hard to tell if it's been successful, since organizers won't say how much as been put into circulation for goods and services such as coffee and formalwear.
Sexton thinks that community currency can flourish in Portland because residents have demonstrated a strong preference to buy local, as witnessed by the popularity of farmers markets.
"There is a strong entrepreneurial air here, as well as a huge focus on local goods and services," Sexton says.
In Ithaca, Hours are exchanged for a myriad of goods and services—from chiropractic and salsa lessons to private ambulance service. Some businesses accept Hours as full payment. Others choose to accept only a percentage of payment in Hours, with the remainder being paid in cash.
Sexton has started a website, pdxhours.org, and is organizing a board to work out the details for a Portland currency system. He hopes to establish a strong membership base by the end of the year.