An editorial in the Jan. 25 issue of the Catalyst raised, yet again, student concerns about where Colorado College invests its endowment (“Why I support divestment from fossil fuels”). David Cully protested millions of dollars invested in – and therefore showing approval for – an industrial product that is devastating the planet.
I want to commend Cully on his concerns. They are shared by almost all of the fifty-odd CC interns who have worked for my office, the Pikes Peak Justice & Peace Commission.
These students want to believe that CC would stand up for a better future for them and the world. They don’t want to hear – year after year – that the college has no ethical concerns about its investments, that return-on-investment is the only goal of good business.
I honestly believe that most of the CC community – students, faculty, staff and alumni – wants the college to invest in a just and sustainable future. The problem is that they just don’t know how to do it. Finance officials are boxed in by what they have been told is the wisest option for the multi-million-dollar endowment: namely, Wall Street.
So, I am happy to propose that Wall Street is NOT the only option! As more and more people are discovering – especially since the financial collapse of 2008 – there’s also Main Street. In Colorado Springs, let’s just call it “Tejon Street.”
Imagine part of CC’s endowment becoming an economic driver for the local economy. Instead of helping Monsanto destroy the agricultural capacity of the planet, CC could help create a sustainable food shift in El Paso County. Instead of helping Exxon-Mobil produce gasoline to ship our food from California or Mexico or China, CC could help create permanent local jobs in agriculture, food production and manufacturing.
Coloradans buy $12 billion worth of food every year, approximately 97 percent of it imported from elsewhere, according to economist Michael Shuman, author of Local Dollars, Local Sense.
Shuman’s 2012 food-shift study, commissioned by the non-proﬁt Transition Colorado (and its Slow Money-style investment arm Localization Partners), concluded that if we produced 25 percent of this food in Colorado, we could create 31,000 new jobs across the state.
But such a food shift won’t just happen because “buying local” has become trendy. It will take investment to start new farms, train workers and develop new supply infrastructure. The cost of a 25-percent food shift in a place as populous as El Paso County could require as much as $200 million in investment capital.
Right down Tejon Street, not more than three miles from campus, there are hopes of creating a Downtown Public Market – a year-round farmer’s market and local food hub. The market would not only address the current downtown food desert, but could become a major attraction for residents and tourists alike.
About $5 million will be needed to get the basic market up and running, to purchase property, renovate historic buildings and link up to regional farms. Colorado College would be a hero in everyone’s mind if it could move a few million of endowment funds from Wall Street to Tejon Street.
But how? Wall Street has spent the last 80 years funneling American investment into major corporations. Fund managers just don’t know how to move capital into local markets. Everyone perpetuates the myth that corporate investments are low risk – even though Shuman calculates that the average rate of return on Wall Street from 1915 to 2010 was 3.8 percent.
Cities all over the country are now discovering Slow Money – vehicles for local food investments through local banks, credit unions, community development finance institutions, community loan funds, municipal bonds and the Small Business Development Network.
The Local Economy Working Group is planning a major Slow Money educational event for early March. Maybe we can hold it at Colorado College! Maybe we can engage the CC community in a new discussion of moving endowment funds from Wall Street to Tejon Street. Sounds like a great future to me.
Steven Saint is the executive director of the Pikes Peak Justice & Peace Commission and sustainability coordinator for the Green Cities Coalition.