Increasing Community Income
Increasing Community Income GN-A1
Substantially improved community economics is important, not only to the people who choose to live cooperatively, but to a world in crisis. Imagine the possible influence of growing numbers of prosperous, multi-cultural, urban and rural intentional communities.
Even in our poor national economy, the potential for economic growth in community is great. What's more, it's possible for communities to increase earnings without compromising social values, ecological contribution, the quality of the work experience, or attention to the internal environment.
All of this is not as impossibly unrealistic as it probably sounds. There is ample evidenced that it can be done -- and indeed has been done.
It might be useful to hire a research team to examine existing studies of the economic successes (and the failures) of cooperatives of all kinds, the kibbutzim, the communist states, and intentional communities everywhere. They might report on what the experts think about why groups did as well or as badly as they did, and how it was done.
Basic prescriptions for economics that work in small communities (or most other places) are well known and straightforward. However, the process of putting known principles into practice is often difficult.
Good economics calls on business or industry, large or small, to increase production and decrease waste (of time, materials and talent). These factors, in favorable balance, attend to cut costs, and therefore make it possible to lower prices, while upgrading the quality of whatever goods and services are offered. Obviously, doing that will increase sales volume, and total income. This upward spiral also serves the interest of the general public by giving them better quality for less cost.
The act of increasing productivity and lowering costs doesn't necessarily mean that people have to work harder or longer hours, or that their hourly return for work is less. It does suggest that most people can learn how to get a lot more done in any given time period -- and do it better, while enjoying the whole experience much more.
The Challenge of trying to actualize small community economic potential is both exciting and difficult. The job calls for a number of things, including: open-minded re-examination of many prevailing, popular attitudes towards work ethics and personal goals; motivation and incentive; authority and responsibility; relationship to the larger society; the meaning of cooperative vs. adversarial, competitive thinking and action; and the relationship between these things and productivity.
Effort needs to go into improving the availability of people in community to communicate and solve problems as they come up -- so there is less reliance on leaders and experts to do the job.
Most communities could benefit from improved systems and better procedures for both production and administration.
Much better flow of information to everyone, from everywhere, about everything, is badly needed every place. More specifically, good management mandates:
* systematic performance evaluation and feedback; regular, frequent and efficient planing;
* clear, effective supervision;
* much more universal input to economic decision making;
* working participatory management structures that provide access to learning how to participate creatively and responsibly;
* and much more attention given to discovering talent and developing skills.
The essential key to opening these doors is good hands-on training available to everyone that needs it whenever it's needed.
One can look into the best possible future scenario and imagine a permanent inter-community commission that develops and presents training programs. There might be an academy in which members of community spend time studying each other's ways of living and doing business. We have a lot to learn form each other about how to do what we do more creatively, more productively, and with much more pleasure.
A good program for teaching individuals who live in cooperatives how to participate as partners in community work is long overdue. Training for good group planning and decision making should be offered by representatives of all communities, and resented from many points of view. Teams of people who have some skills might go out to consult, teach, and help work through problems. Of course such teams could help upgrade systems and procedures on site where that's needed.
Perhaps eventually such things will come about as a function of FIC (Federation of Intentional Communities). That's a dream, on which a lot of good work has already begun.
Active Economic Relationships Between Communities can be Important to Everyone's Income now.
Both rural and urban groups could profit immediately form the development of effective cooperative marketing. Urban communities can and should serve as marketing and information centers for distribution of the products of many rural communities. They should also offer buying services, particularly if they are located in the larger cities where raw materials and resources are readily available, often at low prices.
Exchange of labor, materials, information and other resources between communities also needs much further development.
Individuals in communities that can offer special health, counseling, negotiation or other expertise -- should be encouraged to make their skills more readily available to those that need them.
It might be helpful to everyone if communities went so far as to encourage free, voluntary exchange of members. People looking for special training opportunities, offering needed skills for planning, research, or particular work, or just wanting to experience new environments or localities might get help finding what they're looking for.
New ventures, whether undertaken individually or between communities, should be built around the talents and interests of their members. Recruitment strategies might be developed to attract people interested in selected projects.
New businesses should be based on the demands of the market, and availability of necessary materials at low cost. Using home grown or reused (otherwise waste) materials whenever possible is often both ecologically and economically soiled practice.
In general, communities starting new ventures should be more aware of opportunities to engage in small industries that require very low investment in equipment, machinery or inventory; are labor intensive; use skills that are available or readily acquired; and that are potentially highly profitable.
Diversification of income sources is central to the economic growth and security of most communities. Partnership between groups makes reasonable economic sense, because communities willing to share their strengths could help each other diversify.
Most rural communities have the space and many have or could attract the labor they need to support several enterprises. Optimally, even very small groups should have at least three of four income sources.
Another advantage that speaks for the potential success of small community enterprise is that all the participants ore partners. Talented or at least well motivated worker/owners are usually willing to gamble with whatever time and energy is needed to get their business going. They will work under less than optimal conditions, if necessary, for however long it takes. Sweat equity of this kind can go a long way towards ultimate success, because it keeps labor costs and overhead low in the beginning, when under-capitalized ventures need the lead time.
To stimulate and maintain incentive for all this, everyone should have a meaningful role in making the project work, and everyone should be involved in deciding how to distribute the material and other rewards when they do come.
A FEW OF THE MANY GOOD CHOICES FOR SMALL COMMUNITY BUSINESSES ARE DESCRIBED BELOW:
1) Recycling: Clean-up, repair, restore, refinish, re-upholster, repackage furniture, accessories, appliances, lamps, frames, artwork, clothing, toys, jewelry and countless other items that are readily available at little or no cost. It is also possible to strip these things and reuse the materials to make other things.
Merchandise can be easily obtained, from contributors, auctions, purchases of households, and local sanitation departments.
Restoration of these things for use provides many kinds of work. In general, recycling requires more creative imagination than cash. There is a high return on labor and the required skills are easily learned. Marketing of restored objects may require cooperation with an urban community, or maintaining an urban outlet for selling/consigning to stores.
2.) Small Manufacturing: Good, low investment items include:
Inexpensive Clothing, particularly for special needs, i.e. tall, short, very large, etc. With some creative imagination one can develop very simple patterns for one-size fits-all, easy to produce items. Fabrics can be purchased in job lots at low cost. Again very little investment is needed and return for labor can be high.
Toys and ornaments can be produced from scrap wood. Dolls, doll clothes, quilts, pot holders and other household items can be produced using fabric scraps from used clothing and factory rejects.
Simple furniture such as book shelves, accessories, rough outdoor furniture, innovative futons, decorative screens, room dividers, wall units, racks. With imaginative and very simple design, many such items can be made quickly and inexpensively, with relatively small investment.
3) Farm crops that can be used for small industry. Such things as cotton and other fibers can be processed, woven and used in small manufacture. Flowers, seeds, shells, etc. can be processed for use in crafts. Seedlings, herbs and other small cash crops can do well in some areas.
4) Prepared, canned and frozen foods are good options. Sugar and fat-free candies, baked goods and other desserts can be prepared inexpensively and marketed to bakeries and restaurants. The demand is great and so is the challenge to use fruit sweeteners and make it taste good. Nut butters, cheese, tofu, tempeh and health foods are all good options.
5) The art work and the crafts of community members can supply excellent products for the market. They can also be used in finishing and decorating recycled furniture and accessories. Also, decorating clothing and household things provides good opportunities for talented people.
Art gallery, summer theater and other programs for tourists are profitable in some locations. Community talent can even be booked out for appearances in other areas. It is even possible to think of developing theater and other cultural events as an on-going income producing inter-community venture.
6) Sound recording, or video and film editing studios can be set up relatively inexpensively, to do processing for other communities and surrounding towns.
7) Workshop and other training programs on health, psychological or growth themes, or any other expertise community members have to offer. Possibly talented people could offer programs to teach anything from auto mechanics, carpentry and wallpapering to ceramics, music dance or the visual performing or literary arts. Such workshops could be offered both to the people in the surrounding areas and as part of vacation packages. (See item 8 below).
8) Vacation options and/or retreats can be offered by communities, using whatever facilities they have available. Trailers can be placed on existing land where regulations permit. Camping arrangements are always possible where the space is appropriate. Health, fitness, diet, language or other training programs can be part of vacations.
9) Children's camp programs might fit into existing child care for some communities. Day care, special instruction and after-school arrangements are also good options.
10) Services such as editing, indexing, word processing, proof reading, copying, carpentry, painting, renovation, gardening and other trades can be made available to people in neighboring communities.
11) Work for existing firms on contract can offer a number of kinds of employment; from book binding or clerical jobs to assembling and finishing of any number of products for nearby factories.
If done efficiently, such work can earn a very high hourly rate.
THE POSSIBILITIES FOR COMMUNITY BUSINESSES ARE LIMITED ONLY BY IMAGINATION.
Marketing of diverse products and services presents interesting challenges, particularly for communities that are far from any densely populated areas. The following suggestions are only a few of the directions to be explored:
1. Rural communities should consider establishing permanent marketing arrangements in an urban center as inexpensively as possible. Some rural communities might consider opening a store or marketing office in a house or apartment at the lowest starting cost possible in the nearest urban center, from which members can rotate the job or retailing and/or wholesaling the products of possibly more than one rural community in the area. It could start very small and increase as need grows and income allows.
2. Eventually it might be possible to establish small urban marketing groups in several cities to service the marketing needs of as many surrounding rural communities as possible. These might become independent urban communities whose business is marketing rural community products. People who are particularly interested in that geographic location and in that marketing business might be recruited from the communities they sell for.
3. The simplest procedure is for rural communities to make some financial arrangement with existing communities for retail or wholesale marketing.
4. Some of the ways that communities can sell merchandise directly include mail order, and the fair and flea market circuit. Also, commission arrangements can be made with local churches and other groups needing to raise money, and individuals in nearby areas needing extra income.
5. The services and products of both urban and rural communities should be better advertised to the general market. This also requires an inter-community cooperative effort for which there is some good reason. Shared costs are possible for ads in newspapers in local urban centers, in nearby university papers, and possibly on local radio. Publicity in both local and national media is always a possibility and can afford good (if somewhat indirect) product advertising, but it requires somebody who has the time and knows how to do it.
Marketing training programs are needed to teach practical skills, such as how to use mail and phone sales procedures. It is important for people involved in marketing to understand wholesaling, consignment, advertising, record keeping and of course sales techniques.
All of these possibilities are only viable if communities can successfully increase the productivity of their labor, lower production costs, offer competitively low prices for high quality goods and services, and cooperate effectively with each other.
The long term goal is for many communities to generate return that is better than average market value for labor, and profitable enough to accumulate meaningful resources for the community's use. The dream is of a variety of alternative economic models that match or surpass the results achieved by the best of the ways that mainstream small entrepreneurs do business - and do it without sacrifice of human values.
IT SEEMS REASONABLE AT THIS POINT TO CONSIDER IF THIS IS A WISE DIRECTION TO PURSUE - AND WHY.
The collapse of communism and the well known abuses and failures of capitalism point clearly to the need for new cooperative economic alternatives that work. The fertile soil of intentional communities may be ideal for growing suitable models that can be adapted.