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Opinion

Why credit unions and small businesses are beating out big banks

Community-based capitalism offers an exciting new model for American prosperity and a way out of the current economic morass. Constructive Capitalism is shareable, local, and sustainable. Examples of its impact abound.

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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.

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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.

This bill creates a legal framework for “Crowdfund Investing” to allow regular Americans to invest small amounts of money to start and grow businesses in their communities. SEC filing and appropriate disclosures would still be required to protect investors. The amount businesses could raise would be capped at $1 million, and individuals would be limited to $10,000 or 10 percent of their adjusted gross income, whichever is lower. The Senate has introduced two similar bills and should pass them quickly.

Americans need all these elements to rebuild their economy and their communities. But most of all, they need to take responsibility for building this new economy from the bottom up. Americans can’t afford to wait for the change to come to us; we must proactively be part of it.

The deepest, most profound changes in our country have always come from the people, not from Congress, Wall Street, K Street, or even Pennsylvania Avenue. The metamorphosis from the nation’s current fossil-fuel and big-bank dominated economy to a sustainable, broadly shared, and prosperous economy is already underway on Main Streets across America.

If you have an idea for a business that can provide real value to people, it may soon be a lot easier for you to raise the money you need to get it off the ground. If you’re still parking your money in a savings account at a big bank earning no interest, take a look at a credit union near you. And if you want healthier and tastier food or to save money by going solar, chances are help is only a few clicks away.

Billy Parish is president of Solar Mosaic, a solar investment platform, and the author of “Making Good: Finding Meaning, Money, and Community in a Changing World.”

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Danny Bent poses at the starting line of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, Mass.

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