Community Buy-Outs & Community Infrastructure as part of Sustainable Community Building

I came across this article which wondered about the possibility of a purchase of a 10% stake in Whistler Blackcomb Holdings by the community at the time of its initial public share offering in October 2010.   It opens up a discussion around community ownership and stewardship of businesses and assets, possibly even community buy-outs for businesses smaller than the $450 million market capitalisation of Whistler Blackcomb, and community infrastructure.

It’s not the first time I have thought about community buy-outs, but it is the first time I’ve thought about it for a ski resort and certainly the first time I’ve read about it for a business of that size.

I think it would have been interesting for the community to share in the economic and social wealth created through tourism, sport, and leisure, beyond simply employment opportunities at and use value of the resort.  However a 10% interest in a mature business would have been challenging to say the least.  Issues around the values and objectives of the community, which would hopefully include social and environmental factors, potentially in conflict with profit-seeking motives of other public shareholders could have been rife (although quickliy dealt with given the marginal 10% ownership).  Decisions amongst community owners themselves could have been contentious without the right structures and methods for dealing with collaboration and democratic governance.

But on a smaller scale, with the right attention paid to how collective community ownership and stewardship can be managed and executed, could be very interesting for enterprises and sustainable community development.  The issue of finance to support a community buy-out arises, but addressed by working with a values-based like minded credit union, financial institution, or social investor.

For mature assets such as Whistler Blackcomb and to ensure that communities are not burdened with an unreasonable task of driving revenue growth and brutally enforcing cost efficiency measures, buy-out targets that do take the form of community infrastructure might be better acquired with the help of a community infrastructure fund that is not driven by growth and high financial returns.

The community buy-out model is an interesting idea to entertain, for a revenue-generating asset or business.  Once proved out, perhaps it could be a model that could be rolled out for other community infrastructure assets such as libraries and community centres, alongside an income generation strategy.

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