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Why credit unions and small businesses are beating out big banks

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The recent growth could cause the credit union system to have more than $1 trillion in total assets, according to the Credit Union National Association chief economist Bill Hampel. Investment banks still have important roles to play in the economy, but we can look to more community-based models for economy growth. And big banks may follow suit.

In Cleveland, Ohio, the Evergreen Cooperative, a group of worker-owned green businesses, includes a laundry business that services the big schools and hospitals in the city, a solar installation and energy efficiency company, and a commercial greenhouse that will produce 5-6 million heads of lettuce and 300,000 pounds of herbs each year.

Finally, in Oakland (where I live), there’s a company called Sungevity that has helped thousands of people nationwide put solar panels on their roofs at no upfront cost through an innovation called a “solar lease.”

Similar to leasing car lease, Sungevity owns the panels and rents them to homeowners at a low monthly rate. Sungevity’s customers save money from the day the solar panels are installed, and collectively have saved tens of millions of dollars on their utility bills. Sungevity hired over 200 people in Oakland last year. Solar is the fastest growing industry in America and already employs more than 100,000 men and women, more than US steel production and more than US coal mining.

Surprisingly, even in the partisan gridlock of Washington, the House recently passed the Entrepreneur Access to Capital Act to make it much easier for businesses to raise money. Since the financial meltdown, the traditional means of financing have become inaccessible to most businesses, with banks refusing to lend, credit card interest rates soaring, and private capital unavailable.

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