By David Tulis
The idea of local economy is important to grasp because it is not about dull economics or dreary corporate news back in Section C of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. The idea is much more exciting than the run of the mill revelations about a quarterly report, the opening of a bistro on East 10th Street or even the 450 new jobs created here by trucking logistics company Access America (see Tuesday’s editions).
The power of the idea originates in the way God has structured human nature and human society — also known as “the marketplace.” Capitalism is glorious because it reflects God’s grace and brings on the advancement of society.
The entrepreneur thinks imaginatively of other people, perceiving their needs and using his talents to improve their lives, reduce their costs, make their businesses more profitable. In so doing, he obtains a reward — his profit. The entrepreneur, in other words, lives out Christ’s example in serving others, putting others first, thinking imaginatively for their benefit (and, among some of them, His glory).
Despite the political tyranny of our day from “those people,” the ubiquitous snooping and enforcement, the crippled rule of law and the incoherence of inflationary currency, genuine capitalism is exciting wherever it takes place.
Noogacentric Renaissance Fund keep profits here
An important element of progress is the use of capital to start new businesses, services and helps. The city has at least three groups involved in providing “angel” funds to new companies. One of them, Chattanooga Renaissance Fund, involves six partners and other local investors who pool their resources to help other people start businesses.
“We are the Chattanooga Renaissance Fund,” says Charlie Brock, a partner in the group, in a phone interview, “so we are all about looking for opportunities primarily in the Chattanooga region, and looking for potential high-growth startups that we can help fund, provide capital to, provide mentorship to, and help them be successful.
“For us, it’s about revitalizing the entrepreneurial spirit here in Chattanooga and helping companies here generate jobs and generate wealth that then flows back into our communities — into philanthropies and that sort of thing. So it’s a virtuous circle that we are trying to ignite a match under” (Emphasis is mine).
He says consider the foundations and charities in the city that “came about through wealth that was created from entrepreneurs building businesses. We need more of those success stories so that we can create more wealth to create more foundations that feed our philanthropy that give us the kind of community we want to live in.”
Thinking of my Occupy Chattanooga friends, I ask him if he defends the idea that profit for a few is good for the many.
“Absolutely!” Startups hire local people, he explains. That’s beneficial to the people in the city.
“Even if they end up selling the business over time, and even if the business does not stay in Chattanooga, there’s still wealth that is generated that goes to the investors and goes to the employees of the company. They then go out and do other things. They invest in their own philanthropies and that type of thing. So, absolutely, it’s a revitalization of the strong entrepreneurial heritage in Chattanooga that has fed a lot of our foundations.”
Make no mistake, the after-effects of local investments may be charitable, but what controls is the prospect of profit. Renaissance is not a charity, he says. It can’t afford to run losses. It must select the brightest and best startups to benefit its operators and customers, and turn a profit for Renaissance local private investors who bear the terrible risk of losing every penny if a startup goes belly up.
“As Chattanooga continues to build a reputation as a center of major economic activity in the South,” he told Chattanoogan.com, “itʼs important that there is a place locally for early stage entrepreneurs to access capital and have the ability to interface with experienced business mentors.” With great risk comes greater potential profit. The group does not invest in existing companies, but will invest further amounts in companies it has helped launch.
Sluice gate or spray? VW profits shatter across map
Now contrast Mr. Brock’s capitalism with that of Volkswagen, and see with me a little more of the glory in the idea of local economy. And remember that, in the long term, ideas matter more than just today’s numbers.
Volkswagen is a global auto company with a factory in the Scenic City. Its construction created jobs until it was complete. Numerous suppliers followed VW to the city. In July, Chattanooga Seating Systems, a joint venture by Hollingsworth Logistics of Dearborn, Mich., and Magna Seating of Ontario, announced it is hiring 100 people. All told, about 5,000 local jobs have been created by VW’s arrival.
But the profit of the behemoth does not stay in Chattanooga. It is dispersed worldwide. Shares are owned by mutual funds, teacher retirement systems, union pension plans, the family down the street and elderly couples who have downsized into condos. Clumps of shares are held by people in Seattle, Bangkok and Brussels. All told, Volkswagen has issued 295.1 million regular shares and 170.1 preferred shares, or about 465 million altogether to people just like you and to mutual funds like those peddled by the personnel director at your office.
The riches of the VW enterprise are breath taking. Volkswagen paid 1.4 billion euros in dividends in 2011. A single VW share earned 33.10 euros. In gross amounts, Based on the dividend proposal for the reporting period, the dividend yield on Volkswagen’s ordinary shares is 2.9%. VW’s operating profit was 11.3 billion euros. Today it takes F$1.31 to buy one euro.
In considering such exciting sums from the German company, Chattanooga Renaissance Fund looks pitiful. It is investing F$3 million in local and regional startups. Yes, its operators may reap a return of 800 percent or 1,000 percent on capital invested, whereas a VW shareholder’s profit is in single digits.
The Chattanooga Renaissance Fund operates on the principle of lococentrism. It operates on an ideal, if you will. Mr. Brock says he is delighted Volkswagen came to Chattanooga and that it has brought charitable, generous people to town and has “boosted our community morale.” But the F$3 million Renaissance Fund is more important to the future of Chattanooga than Volkswagen because its profits, as Mr. Brock says, do not dilate out across across the globe like so much spray, but gather as through a sluice gate to men living, spending and reinvesting in Chattanooga, in local economy.
Sources: Volkswagenag.com 2011 annual report
Mike Pare “Volkswagen suppliers plan to hire 100 full-time workers in Chattanooga area,” Chattanooga Times Free Press website, July 13, 3012
“Local Business Leaders Launch Chattanooga Renaissance Fund,” The Chattanoogan, March 15, 2011
Read a story about Mr. Brock’s various commitments and connections at VentureNashville.com.