Wednesday, April 7, 2004

'Creative economy' may boost region

By Christine Gillette
Staff writer The Salem News

If the North of Boston region wants to grow its creative economy, it has some choices to make -- not only for the immediate future, but for 20 years from now.

"Big decisions need to be made," says Charles Landry, an author and consultant on the concept of the "creative economy." The term refers to economic strategies based on the presence of arts, culture and creativity-based businesses. He is on the North Shore this week meeting with local leaders about how this area can develop its own plan of action.

KIRA HORVATH/Staff photo International creative economy expert Charles Landry, left, speaks to local business leaders at a workshop held at Salem State College's Enterprise Center in Salem, Mass., yesterday.

Last month, a regional task force heard a report on the creative economy North of Boston that found about 1,000 businesses and nonprofits, employing nearly 6,000 people, are powered by creative thinking.

That report, compiled by the marketing arm of the Eagle-Tribune Publishing Co., is among the information that Landry is using as a basis for his consulting work here. Since arriving Sunday, Landry has toured cities and towns in the region to survey their creative resources, and conducted a daylong workshop yesterday at the Enterprise Center at Salem State College with about 35 representatives of business, the arts and governmen

"Clearly, it's got a massive potential," Landry said of the region. "There's a lot to work with here."

But first, Landry says, the region must choose whether it wants to further develop its creative sector and look at issues associated with that, including "where this area will go in 20 years" and whether communities that now have strong individual identities want to work together.
"I think that's something we're very interested in," says Annie Harris, executive director of the Essex National Heritage Commission, which represents 34 communities. "We're much stronger if we do connect with each other."

But if the region chooses to promote its creative economy as a lure for more businesses and economic projects, Landry says, that will mean other changes, as well.

For example, one consequence could be gentrification, and that could raise the cost of living for artists, lower-income workers and budding entrepreneurs.

Harris believes there are plenty of opportunities for economic development along creative lines without negative effects.

"I think particularly in the urban centers, there's quite a bit of excess capacity in our brownfield areas, our factories, some of the underutilized industrial sites," she says. "I think we have room for renovating and improving that without pushing people out."

From Deborah Greel's perspective, the conversation about the future of the region's creative economy is only beginning.

"That conversation's going to go forward," says Greel, program manager of the Salem Main Street Initiative.

Those talks, she said, will include ways to attract and retain businesses and artists, as well as topics like housing that economic growth could influence.

Landry, who will be the keynote speaker tonight at The Salem Partnership's annual dinner, is expected to give an overview of his findings on the region's creative economy.

Rerinted with permission from The Salem News. Copyright 2003 Eagle-Tribune Publishing. All Rights Reserved.