Alberta town launches 'Cochrane Dollars' to encourage local shopping

Dozens of businesses in Cochrane, Alta., are now accepting a local currency known as Cochrane Dollars.

Up to $100,000 worth of bills now available from currency's 'central bank' — the town's ATB Financial branch

The Cochrane Dollars come in denominations of $1, $2, $5, $10, $20 and $150 (to celebrate Canada's 150th anniversary) and can be used at dozens of local businesses in the Alberta town. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

Dozens of businesses in Cochrane, Alta., are now accepting a local currency known as Cochrane Dollars.

The marketing scheme is meant to encourage people to shop locally by injecting up to $100,000 worth of the professionally printed and secured bills into the town's economy.

It's a partnership between the town's economic development office, the local ATB Financial branch — which acts as the "central bank" for the currency — and the Cochrane Monetary Foundation, a non-profit organization created by local businesses to help run the whole thing.

Starting Friday, the town's ATB branch will sell Cochrane Dollars to anyone who wants to buy them, and will also exchange them for Canadian currency for no fee.

Each Cochrane Dollar in circulation will have one Canadian dollar kept at the bank to secure it and the fund will be set aside permanently so the bills never expire and can be exchanged indefinitely.

The Cochrane Dollars are numbered, embossed and include numerous security features to make them difficult to counterfeit. (Town of Cochrane)

The initiative encourages local businesses to initially pump the Cochrane Dollars into circulation by offering them as bonuses to customers or as incentives to employees.

So, for example, instead of offering a sale of 20 per cent off, a retail store could give customers 20 per cent in Cochrane Dollars as "cash back" on top of their purchases. The cost is effectively the same to the business, but it gets the local currency flowing.

And then the idea is to keep them flowing — circulating in the local economy between participating businesses.

The town also plans to send the dollars out through tour companies in a bid to lure potential tourists to Cochrane.

A large-print poster showing what the 20 Cochrane Dollar note looks like. (Julien Lecacheur/Radio-Canada)

The Cochrane Dollars website claims the bills are produced using embossing, UV ink and other "hidden security features that even many national currencies don't include."

The measures are meant to make counterfeiting so difficult that would-be fraudsters would have little incentive to replicate the currency.

"Nonetheless we're always vigilant and take continuous active measures to protect the security and trust of our bills," the site reads. "As a merchant or consumer it is your responsibility to handle Cochrane Dollars with the same diligence as you handle Canadian dollars."

The imagery on the Cochrane Dollars reflects the town's culture, landmarks and history.

Cochrane is located about 25 kilometres northwest of Calgary, where a similar type of local currency, known as Calgary Dollars, was launched in 1995.