Friday, April 9, 2004

Region's economy must play to its strengths

By Christine Gillette
Staff Writer, The Salem News

North of Boston communities must play to their individual strengths, while capitalizing on their proximity to Boston, if they want to avoid being dwarfed by the state's capital city.

That is among the chief findings of consultant Charles Landry, who yesterday concluded a five-day study of the region's creative economy and related resources.

KIRA HORVATH/Staff photo International creative economy expert Charles Landry takes notes as local business leaders discuss ideas during a workshop at Salem State College's Enterprise Center earlier this week.

There are wonderful assets and some of them are still unknown," Landry said, a day after presenting his findings at The Salem Partnership's annual dinner. "Are you making the most of your assets? That's one question. Another is, will history hold the region back or take it forward, and is the culture of the area one of restraint, resting on its historic laurels? ... Make history the liberator."

Landry, who hails from Stroud, England, and is the author of "The Creative City," visits cities around the world to advise them on how to build their creative economies. During his stay in the region, Landry has met with local leaders and surveyed the area.

"The region needs to sort of find a way of thinking about its resources, such as the 11 institutions of education, to see if the curricula fits the needs of this new economy," he said, such as linking arts-related programs with those teaching business. "You can't just import talent, you need to have a homegrown talent strategy. Everyone shares in this; it's a partnership."

A recent study, conducted by the Eagle-Tribune Publishing Co. at the request of the local Creative Economy Task Force, found that nearly 6,000 people across Essex County are employed in more than 900 creative-based ventures that generate $1.2 billion in sales.

If the area chooses to nurture its creative economy, it must "have a vibrant sense of self that is (its) own," he said.

"You need to always see the bigger picture and the big opportunities that will come in working together as a region."

That's the approach the task force plans to take as it moves forward in developing an action plan based on Landry's findings, said Christine Sullivan, one of the group's co-founders and the executive director of the Enterprise Center at Salem State College.

"There will be a whole series of action steps because we are committed to making the creative economy come alive in our community. ...This is the beginning of this initiative," Sullivan said.

Among the issues the area will need to address as a whole are housing and transportation, Landry said. Planning, both in terms of envisioning the future and in how land and other resources are used, is important to the process, he added.

Landry said that when it comes to North of Boston, "My vision for this area is, 'You can make it here and we will help you.'"

"We know that we have an obligation to deliver on the promise of this, and that's what we're going to do," Sullivan said.

"And when I say 'we,' I mean the collective region and the communities of the North Shore and the people who see the potential for what this is. We have a chance here to lead the country in bringing the creative economy to fruition in our region and we ought to seize it."

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