BerkShares is a local currency in western Massachusetts and is a project instituted by the Schumacher Center for a New Economics and BerkShares, Inc., which seeks to foster local and resilient economies. Along with the BerkShares project is the Entry to Entrepreneurship (E2E) Program which aims to develop local entrepreneurs to create local businesses that serve the local economy. Both of these initiatives focus on helping the Berkshires region become as economically self-sufficient as possible. Ultimately, the vision is to create a local currency that is backed by a local basket of goods and not the US dollar.
Set in 2019, this case allows for a discussion of the impacts that big-box retailers (and more recently, online retailers) can have on the economy of small towns, generally damaging local businesses and the jobs, tax dollars, entrepreneurial spirit and civic leadership that they create. The case also explores what can be done to avert that outcome by examining the merits and success metrics of a local currency, the importance of a local supply chain of businesses, and the need for more self-sufficiency within local economies.
It is challenging to keep an economy truly “local” in today’s world and mechanisms like local currency face significant barriers to survive, much less scale, in a globalized economy.