In 1923, Curly Lambeau and four local businessmen incorporated and sold 1,000 shares of the Green Bay Packers NFL team at $5 each to keep it afloat. The fans snapped up the shares. Legend has it that one woman from a farm near Wrightsville, Wisconsin, once showed up at team offices with a matchbox full of quarters totaling $25 to buy her share.
Most remarkable is that the Green Bay Packer stock cannot appreciate in value. In financial terms, the stock is essentially worthless to its shareholders. But the sense of pride and ownership that Green Bay Packer shareholders feel is priceless.
Today, more than 350,000 people, representing more than 5 million shares, have an ownership interest in the Green Bay Packers franchise. Shares of stock have been purchased by citizens in all 50 states.
What drives Green Bay Packers fans to buy stock in their football team? The most powerful force in the world is the feeling of being part of something larger than yourself.
So it's not surprising that the single greatest factor in a city’s success is being a city with citizens who feel connected to it. To be great, a city must have a soul. To have a soul, a city’s citizens must feel a sense of belonging. To belong to a community is to act as a creator and co-owner of that community.
Cities are at their best when their citizens are viewed not as consumers, but as producers; not as the audience, but as the actors; not as customers, but as shareholders.
So what if a citizen could feel like they were an integral part of their city, not as a passive spectator but invested in its success as a city shareholder?
What if you could convert everyday citizens and consumers into loyal owners of their city?
So here’s my idea.
Let’s create Cleveland Shares, a civic crowdfunding platform with an equity twist that makes everyday citizens, shareholders of Cleveland and investors in our city’s success. We would create the opportunity for citizens to buy shares of stock in Cleveland and to invest in city dividend projects that make our city a better place to live, work, learn and play.
What’s the return on investment? It's a return on community.
Rather than investing for a financial return, the citizen shareholders would be rewarded with City Dividends — projects that contribute to Cleveland’s economic growth. For each Cleveland Share you buy, you would be able to invest in the City Dividend project of your choice.
City Dividend projects would be projects that would not otherwise be funded without civic crowdfunding, and would not be projects that are basic services that the city is obligated to provide such as police and fire services, trash pickup, and road repair.
Cleveland Shares would create opportunities for investment from people throughout the world because most people who live outside the cities where they were born or grew up maintain a natural affinity to their hometown. City shareholders are likely to be Cleveland’s best ambassadors and evangelists.
Anyone could buy shares of Cleveland, whether they live in the city, surrounding suburbs or elsewhere and have an emotional attachment to their city or simply fallen in love with Cleveland’s story.
Ready to invest?
Lee Fisher is dean of Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University. He is also senior fellow at the CSU Levin College of Urban Affairs and urban scholar at the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs and the Great Cities Institute, University of Illinois at Chicago. He is the former Ohio attorney general, lieutenant governor, director of the Ohio Department of Development, chair of the Ohio Third Frontier Commission, president and CEO of the Center for Families and Children, president and CEO of CEOs for Cities, state representative and state senator. During the time he served as Ohio lieutenant governor and director of development, Ohio won the nation’s highest state economic-development award and Site Selection magazine’s Governor’s Cup, three consecutive years.