In his April 26 Catalyst column, “What the student divestment committee will say to the trustees,” David Cully outlined the bold proposal that a forward-thinking group of Colorado College students plans to present to the Board of Trustees.

Armed with a petition signed by more than half the student body, Cully and company will ask the trustees to unload stock in the fossil fuel industry from CC’s $532 million endowment.

Further, to take the divestment talk to the next level, the Student Divestment Club proposes that the funds (up to $25 million, I’m told) be shifted from Wall Street to a local investment – a solar array on campus that will dramatically reduce the school’s coal-fired utility bill.

This is a fantastic proposal, addressing the concerns of almost all of the 50-odd CC interns who have worked for my office, the Pikes Peak Justice & Peace Commission, as well as the students, faculty, staff, and alumni with whom we work for a just and sustainable future.

Moving money from Wall Street to Main Street – here in Colorado Springs, let’s call it “Tejon Street” – is part of a growing movement to re-localize the economy. Wall Street has spent the last 80 years channeling American investment into major corporations. Fund managers perpetuate the myth that corporate investments are low risk – even after the crash of 2008, when institutional investors like Colorado College lost millions in stock value.

We don’t have a local stock exchange – yet! – so putting money into a hard asset like a solar array is a great idea. The sacrosanct, return-on-investment can be projected and precisely measured, and the college can advance its goal of carbon neutrality to boot.

I would like the Board of Trustees and the CC Administration to seriously consider this proposal as a first step of many to come in the building a new economic paradigm. Imagine Colorado College becoming a major economic champion in the local economy! Instead of helping Monsanto destroy the agricultural capacity of the planet, CC could help create permanent local jobs in agriculture, food production, and manufacturing.

Local control of business enhances what economists call the “multiplier effect.” Many recent studies show that every dollar spent at a locally owned business generates two-to-four times the economic-development impact as a dollar exported out of town.

Economist Michael Shuman has catalogued how communities across the country are building tools for the new paradigm in his book, “Local Dollars, Local Sense.” He recommends that Colorado College consider developing a “Community Portal,” which would invest endowment dollars into local business.

“A Community Portal is a virtual space where businesses and investors can easily find one another,” Shuman says. “One advantage of a Community Portal is that it allows a small town like Colorado Springs to enter the local investment field relatively easily and inexpensively.”

This Community Portal would integrate the college’s academic strengths with its business aspects. Set the Department of Economics and Business loose on researching how institutional funds can be moved from Wall Street to Tejon Street. This is the cutting edge!

For example, could we form a Colorado Springs Stock Exchange? Could something like the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE, pronounced “bawl-EE”), be formed and nurtured locally?

Could the Collaborative for Community Engagement and the Business and Community Alliance join the effort as well, advancing the goal of enhancing college-community relationships?

Students could go out into the community, study and evaluate companies, and bring back the best candidates for a CC investment. Students could work with various community groups to mobilize local investors. We could involve alumni who may be interested in seeing the “town-gown” relationship grow.

What better place than Colorado College to both study the tools of a new economy, and also invest in them?

Divestment from fossil fuels and re-localizing the economy are bold, forward-thinking actions worthy of serious consideration by the trustees. Go Tigers!

Steven Saint is the executive director of the Pikes Peak Justice & Peace Commission and coordinator of the Green Cities Coalition.

Steven Saint

Guest Writer

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