August 31, 2005

Opinion  published in The Salem News 

'Creative' enterprises could replace manufacturing as mainstay of region's economy

By Pat Zaido and Christine Sullivan

The North Shore has lost a clear economic identity

It was once home to large manufacturers like Parker Brothers, United Shoe Machine Corp. and A.C. Lawrence Leather Co., and before that, the shoe and textile industries. But they are, in large measure, gone. So the challenge before us today is to figure out how to be economically competitive in a constantly changing world.

We think the North Shore is uniquely positioned to grow an entire new "industry" composed of "creative companies" run by people who seek to live and work in areas that are beautiful, historical and welcoming.

Those in creative industries use their minds and ideas to create products and services — from Web design to music, from architecture to advertising to film, art and theater, from computer games and software design to publishing, multimedia and radio or television. According to research done by the Eagle-Tribune Publishing Co., in 2003 6,000 people worked full time in 920 creative economy businesses, generating $1.258 billion in sales in this region.

We feel strongly that our area must lead with its strengths and aggressively promote and recruit creative companies to expand and open in our area. We know that creative companies grow in a variety of ways and that their owners insist on locating in places full of natural beauty, history, culture and convenience — places like our North Shore.

What are "creative industries"?

We have found that most creative companies are small businesses that work with others to leverage larger projects and revenues. They are essentially collaborative.

Many want to grow using contract and part-time workers. They often fly under the radar screen of traditional business organizations because many do business nationally or internationally. In fact, they are a hidden exporter of services.

These businesses are often run out of the home and use contract workers in a virtual work environment.

Next time you go out your door, look up and down your street and imagine how many people are working out of their homes. Now multiply this for your community and our whole area and you will begin to see the vast size of this unrecognized group.

The challenge is first to find these companies and then to help them.

Nurturing the creative economy

So during the past year, we have:

* hosted a visit by Charles Landry, international expert on the creative economy, who met with leaders in all phases of government, business and education to talk about the North Shore's potential to be a hub of creative economy activity.

* interviewed more than 60 creative companies to determine their needs.

* established the first-ever Creative Economy Association of the North Shore (www.CEANS.org), so these companies can come together and do business with each other.

* secured funding through the office of Senate Majority Leader Fred Berry, D-Peabody, to hold a statewide conference on the creative economy to showcase our region and learn from others to expedite our growth

* developed a paper titled "Growing the Creative Economy in the U.S." that was accepted by the Creative Clusters organization for presentation at its worldwide meeting in Belfast, North Ireland, in late October.

Our goal is to expand jobs and employment, increase business revenues and to brand the North Shore as the place to locate a creative business. We know this is possible because the North Shore is home to a rich array of cultural, educational and business organizations set in a beautiful natural environment — all the ingredients those in the creative economy want when they choose a place to live and work.

What you can do

If you are a creative company, we want to know about you.

Join others at the various gatherings sponsored by the North Shore Creative Economy Association. It will provide contacts and help you grow your business.

If you know of other creative companies, encourage them to locate in our region. Tell your friends and family about this new economic development effort. We need to raise awareness and spread the word.

The growth of the creative economy is different from the traditional economic development models and efforts of the past. In this new "flat" world, it is often a number of small companies working jointly that create the levels of income and employment big businesses have provide in the past. This organic growth is the model we see for the creative economy and the economic identity for the North Shore in the 21st century.

Christine B. Sullivan is the executive director of The Enterprise Center at Salem State College. Her e-mail address is csullivan@enterprisectr.org. Patricia H. Zaido is the executive director of The Salem Partnership. Her e-mail address is pzaido@salempartnership.org They started the Creative Economy Initiative on the North Shore in the fall of 2003.