A Magazine about the Hudson Valley’s local economy, published by Hudson Valley Current.

Ithacash: Our Sister Currency

   Greetings from your neighbors here in Ithaca! By way of a quick self-introduction, my name is Scott Morris. I’m the founder and CEO of “Ithacash”, the new complementary currency in Ithaca and sister system to your own Hudson Valley Current. I’ve been a new economy and new money activist since around 2009, when I first formed a group in Iowa to pilot a currency that might help protect our community from another 2008 style crash.

   I moved to Ithaca in late 2012, after hearing that the Ithaca HOURs wanted to revitalize their currency and go digital. Having organized a couple of business networks around the volunteerism-empowering “HERO Rewards” program and its currency of “Merits”, in addition to being a pretty big geek for mobile payments technologies, I knew I was the guy who could help make that happen. I worked with the HOURs board for about a year, and eventually it became clear that moving forward with Ithacash independently would be the best path forward. There is still the potential to revive the Ithaca HOURs, and I really hope one day we’ll be able to do so.

   Ithacash is more than just a fun word-mash; it’s in intentional juxtaposition with “Bitcoin”. Our currency is the Ithaca Dollar. Although we’ve been 100% digital, we intend to make good on the promise in our name by printing physical Ithaca Dollar bills. These will be in the same denominations we’re all used to: 1, 5, 10, and 20. Lesson one when it comes to making your own currency—keep it simple.

   We launched this past August and still very early in our development as a currency program. We’ve been in operation for eight months now with a network of about 100 businesses, freelancers, and nonprofits accepting Ithaca Dollars for their goods and services. Most people have earned Ithaca Dollars into circulation by participating in one of our promotional programs centered on shopping locally during the holidays. Now the focus is on growing the network as quickly as possible.

   In order to do that most effectively, we’ve been spending quite a lot of time developing a relatively new approach, at least for complementary currencies anyway: a marketplace. While marketplaces have become the new thing in terms of online commerce, there hasn’t really been much use by programs such as ours. We have a couple of partner technology providers, and will soon have a very cool mobile app, where anyone can list goods and services for sale, and shop other offerings. The app will be able to transact regular USD seamlessly alongside Ithacash, and sellers can set what percentage of the purchase price they’re willing to accept as they list the item.

   We’re also connecting to a global network of other business-to-business barter networks, just like the Hudson Valley Current. In fact, we closed our first deal with the system based in Burlington, Vermont, which serves the members of the Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility. A restaurant here used some of their Ithaca Dollars to buy some popcorn from Burlington for resale. Fun fact, did you know that you can use your Currents here in Ithaca? True story, you can! Come see us sometime.

   Finally, there’s a known struggle among users of currencies like ours to find ways to re-spend them. I have to give kudos to Chris and the HVC team here, because it sounds like they’ve got a good strategy for pulling together spending plans. Here in Ithaca, we are interested in seeing what happens when we have a real conversation around raising the minimum wage and what we can do to achieve higher wages by focusing on increasing revenues. If a business wants to raise their wage from $12 to $15 per hour, then let’s figure out how much more revenue they need every week and month in order to do that. Then, when they get Ithaca Dollars in, they’ll be earmarked for those higher wages first. Once they’ve hit their target wage figure, we can set more spending goals. Stay tuned for how that works out!

   To find out how you can use your Currents in Ithaca, give Chris or Brian a call at the HV Current office: 845-658-2302.

   Scott Morris is the founder and CEO @Ithacash and can be found on Twitter as @CS_Morris.