03/18/2010

Maine’s creative economy

One of the first questions that many folks coming to Maine for a visit ask is, how do folks make a living here? The state of Maine doesn’t have a single large economic engine that drives our economy. We do have some historical industries, but lately those are in decline or have disappeared. Currently the most talked about is the rise of our “creative economy”.

Now this in typical Maine fashion has at least three meanings. The first meaning is that folks living in Maine create artistic products and make a living that way – artists in paint, photography, writers of books and poetry, potters, sculptors, boat builders.   Creating art – something beautiful to look at of some sort.     Evidence of this economy can be found at the Maine Craft Center, and the many craft and art shows around the state in the summertime. Here is an example of an organized effort – 2009 conference- to help us stir up this interesting pot of artistic power.   here is a you tube link   JUICE Community The arts experience

Connect, Collaborate, Create: The Juice Conference connects leaders of the creative economy to foster growth and prosperity. Weaving together the arts, technology, and entrepreneurship, Juice inspires innovation by bringing talented people together from widely different backgrounds to build on Maine’s traditions. Juice is a forum where attendees can learn, exchange ideas, share success stories and provide input to shape the development of strategies for Maine’s future.

I agree that having a strong arts community is beneficial for attracting visitors to Maine, or at least making their vacation much more interesting – take a beautiful setting, input art and you have 1+1 making more than just 2.

The second meaning is that Maine people use creative ways to put together two or three jobs to create an income year round for themselves. This means taking small jobs like making Christmas wreaths, harvesting seasonal wild food or fishing for a short season, working for the tourist industry either in summer or winter, cutting wood in the winter – depending on where in Maine you live.

The third meaning (a derivative of the second) that you create your own job and your own way of making a product or a service. This is a growing group of folks that farm, or make products that come from animals or natural resources. A great business that shows initiative in the third way is barkwheats. I think that the recent success of Maine’s many organic farms is another great example. Leading the way for these creative small businesses is the MOFGA organization one of the largest in the United States. Making snowshoes, creating a jam and jelly business, weaving blankets from home-grown wool. Knitting sweaters, but also raising the wool.

Historically there have been three power house economic engines that drove Maine’s economy. The first was our lumber resources, first being used for building materials – house lumber, ship lumber, furniture lumber, and lately paper products from fast growing trees. Large towns on big rivers grew up on this money engine. However, these days the paper companies are investing in new equipment elsewhere in the world. Plus the demand for paper and paper products is shrinking as we rely more on internet communication. Gone is the day when you only purchased your seeds from a seed catalog, now we often go on-line and go from there. The second large industry in Maine was shoe manufacturing – again, our rivers provided many of the power needs for this industry. The third and the one still clinging to a place in our current economy is the fishing industries and it’s sister boat building and sailing.

Maine still has it’s boat building industry, although it ebbs and flows a bit as the economy goes up and down. Large boats are only built in one place, Bath, Maine at this point. Smaller ships are still being built in and around here and all along the coast and maintained here too.

Fishing and clamming or worming are living occupations of my neighbors still, but it is morphing and changing in response to the environmental challenges that are ringing the planet. Carpenters here in Maine are home grown in the most part, fathers passing on the skills and the business to their sons and friends. Boat building remains a cornerstone of the Maine economy, with small shops throughout the coast tucked away off side streets. Manset and Southwest Harbor have five thriving boat building businesses. Here in Lamoine, I can see evidence of three home businesses where boats are built.

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