Figuring out the creative economy

To be honest with you this is exactly what I find frustrating about the ‘creative economy’.  There is very little pinning down real economic opportunities.  Here is a 100 page report on Canada’s Creative Corridor the prestigious Martin Prosperity Industry.  I have read through it twice just to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. It is an orgy of statistics and top notch prose but I can’t see a single opportunity for economic growth identified in the entire report with the exception of what they call the creative food economy (but that is not even well defined).

Right up front the mandate of the report is “To complete an assessment of strategic opportunities”.

The report states Eastern Ontario has “unprecedented opportunities to reach markets and attract investment”.

They recommend creating business directories, creative surveys, bring creative sector and creative economy issues and policy considerations into land use and other areas of municipal planning, undertake a cultural and creative mapping exercise, place branding, an internet strategy and an audience focus that includes the use of social networking, tools (Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn) to enhance promotional efforts, identification of tactics for engaging creative businesses/industries, developing web tools to attract creative economy business investment such as the ‘Build a New Life’ site developed in Prince Edward County, developing a full HR and skills asset map of the local population.

And the report recommends that the Province should create a Creative Economy Policy Development, a Creative Economy Tool Development and Creative Economy Funding Programs.

There’s nothing in this report.  It must have cost a fortune and there is nothing beyond neat charts and vague rhetoric. 

If there is to be a creative economic strategy we must define serious targets, specific industries (not the two “for examples” listed in this report) and specific ways to recruit companies and grow industries.  If the stakeholders that take this report adopt every single recommendation there is no way to know if that would ever lead to any economic growth.  All the recommendations are about data collection and a little of generic promotion (to no specific industries). 

When Richard Florida pins it down for us, then I will be thrilled.  We he works with an economic development group to set a target for creative industry attraction, new start ups and tangible investment, then I will be happy.  He and this institute are arguing that governments should put significant money into this idea and I can’t see any projected results.

15 thoughts on “Figuring out the creative economy

  1. The creative economy is already alive and thriving, it just doesn’t get any support and so cannot become ‘mainstream’. Some examples:

    1. Music-festivals are going full tilt, most bands are pushing content online and making at least some bucks through the internet. NB has never really pushed music in its educational system and culture-apart from acadians, so it never took off like in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.

    2. Graphic Arts- graphic novels are now ‘almost’ the new ‘novel’ form for young adults (apart from female readers and science fiction). Again, unfortunately this is tied to american distributors so its hard for a single writer, let alone an industry to get a foothold. However, again, the internet has many opportunities for selling, you won’t get rich, but you can get by.

    3. Programming-The sky is the limit here, new apps for phones and media players are coming out almost daily, its almost impossible to keep track of how many.

    4. Writing-While everybody and their dog has a novel in them, the worldwide explosion of drama and film have a lot of opportunities for those willing to keep at it.

    5. Business products-once again the internet holds unlimited potention for the right product in the right market at the right price. Unfortunately there is little training in how the internet is actually structured, and business schools still think the extent is ‘a decent website’.

    That’s right off the top of my head. That fat lady from Cape Breton built an entire industry almost singlehandedly. And again, these are all ‘industries’ that need VERY little startup capital-what they do need is an infrastructure and the training. But to not see the business opportunities there is to be simply blind. Next to science I’d also say that these fields are the most interesting. When I grew up adults always told me ‘you aren’t supposed to ENJOY your work, thats why you get paid’. But then you actually talk to somebody in one of those industries. My sister did a short stint with Rogers, who refused to hire her full time. She worked her ass off, but was paid decently, and most important, absolutely loved every minute of it.

  2. Let’s see. Florida has his salary paid by government with a top up by student tuition.he teaches perhaps a couple (maximum 3) 3-hour per week courses for 2, 12 week sessions. The rest of the time, the university provides resources for him to research. Oh, and because he probably needs more money, CFI and NSERC make billions in grant money available. And, if he makes a breakthrough using government resources and while paid by university (ie governement) he owns it and reaps the profits.

    In this case, he has a good gig writing books and speaking.

    We are looking to the wrong guy for a sense of reality!

  3. Actually, Florida has been remarkably prescient, but CFI and NSERC are hardly going to providing him with grant money.
    Just take a look at central Florida. Disneyworld has become an economic juggernaut all on the basis of ‘creativity’. NB is still living in the past and attached to natural resources, the feeling is that you have to have some ‘thing’ to sell for it to be ‘economic’. In the industrial world it is ideas that have currency, it may be different for a place lucky enough to produce a ‘product’, but those are few and far between. Try having even SOME investment in creativity and see how quickly it blossoms-just look at how quickly the Fredericton Harvest festival or Moncton book festival took off.

  4. Thanks for these examples Mikel.I must be an old f**t but this looks to me like a collection of hobbies, entertainment and sidelines not the seeds of Fortune 500 companies.

    When the creative economy produces results like Youtube which has such widespread “success” with a billion views a day and still cannot turn a profit, I am not prepared to bet the farm on it.

    When you have a bunch of solutions in search of problems, you have the ingredients for a dotcom meltdown. I see the creative class as more of a cultural influencer than a stand alone economic powerhouse.

  5. “In the industrial world it is ideas that have currency”

    Everyone has ideas; only a relatively few good ones have any value. Irving had a creative idea – and the ability to transform that into billions of dollars of wealth. Likewise for McCains. They had good ideas that made good use of natural resources. There is no reason that more good ideas cannot re-transform the natural resource base into more billions.

    Disney was not the first animator; he was the first to industrialize animation in order to produce consumer products. Disneyland in CA made use of those products and enhanced their value. Disneyworld in FL was an imitator constructed to meet growing demand.

    Richard Florida is saying something quite different than the above; he is saying that urban centres grow around a creative class rather than around industrial development. There is just no evidence for this; that’s why the report David cites has so little to offer. Its fine to develop industries around creativity, but what is needed is a strategy to get there, and a recognition that ‘creativity’ isn’t owned by the chattering class that listens to Florida. Just the opposite, in fact. Florida is a great marketer, but that’s all.

  6. That’s exactly my point, that to many here these are just ‘hobbies’. Like when Ben & Jerry first started a roadside ice cream stand they were just a couple of flakes too lazy to find real jobs. Rita MacNeil got 20 ex miners who would be on permanent social assistance into the ‘men of the deep’ who still tour worldwide.

    This is an example where people would rather argue against a theory than reality. If I release a song on itunes and people pay a dollar for it….why is that NOT economic development? If I sell a LOT of that song and then go and hire a bunch of musicians, why isn’t that an increase in economic development? If that does even better and I hire a full time band, then a manager, then a ad company, then get a sponsorship from a corporation for shows, since when is that NOT a substancial increase in economic development? If I build a studio and then open it to dozens of other people who then start doing the same, are you seriously going to argue that this is dabbling? What if previously I and all those other people had been laid off and were collecting social assistance? The effect of that ONE musical enterprise becomes massive-combine that with, say, we lived in a small town in northern NB which had just been devastated by the loss of one of those ‘fortune 500’ companies and the benefits accrue exponentially.

    Of course the crux is that these are not ‘Fortune 500’ companies, that ‘may’ be true (although Irving started from a single gas station, McCain started by supplying local restaurants), but thats GOOD. A recent survey of Fortune 500 companies found that ALL companies had gotten subsidized by their home state or region, and HALF had been saved by bailout from complete collapse. You don’t WANT Fortune 500 companies, you just want GOOD companies with good paying jobs.

    As for Youtube, I don’t know the specifics of Youtube, but the only people upset they don’t make a profit SHOULD be investors, and they are part of the reason why the economy is in such a precarious position, expecting 17% returns at least on all investments. More importantly is the fact that Youtube provides JOBS, that’s what virtually every economic development effort is aimed at, especially in NB. When Saskatchewan Potash said it would expand in exchange for royalty restrictions, the announcement wasn’t about how much profit Sask Potash was making, or the price of potash-who cares? The point is that it provides jobs.

    But like I said, to see Disneyland in central florida as a ‘cultural influencer’ and NOT as a ‘standalone economic powerhouse’ (why can’t something be both?) is to SERIOUSLY misread the situation (ie. is just plain WRONG). It may well be that attitude that had people like Samual Goldwyn getting the hell out of St. John to move to a place in the middle of the desert to make films. Had St. John been a little less anti semitic and a little more accommodating, perhaps all those jewish forefathers would have settled in St. John and THAT would have been Hollywood. Tourism is primarily a ‘cultural enterprise’ and look what it contributes to economies, in many places it contributes MORE than traditional manufacturing.

    As for the dotcom bust, that wasn’t any different than any other ‘bust’, whether automotive or financial-too much capital, not enough profit. Youtube is simply a case of business interests trying to make a profit out of something that was developed as an altruistic enterprise-NOT as a money maker. That’s not the fault of Youtube, it in fact has increased economic development by leaps and bounds-but mostly for users of the system.

    Cultural ‘Towns’
    1. Las Vegas
    2. Atlantic City
    3. Monaco
    4. Montreux, Switzerland
    5. Cavendish, PEI
    6. Lenenburg, Nova Scotia

    Those are whole CITIES (or towns) basically built around ‘culture’, thats just off the top of my head, and doesn’t even get into actual creative products (which can also be manufacturing products). In fact, I’d expand Florida’s definition because within companies there can be a LOT of creative processes. Some just pull a switch but in many cases there is genuine R&D at every level. Not typically in mass production, but in other areas.

  7. “Cultural ‘Towns’”

    Las Vegas was built around gambling; the ‘culture’ came after the gambling, not the other way round. Same for Atlantic City and Monaco. Montreux was a tourism centre long before the jazz fesitval. Cavendish? Ever been there outside of the tourist season – no future there. I don’t think you should equate the tourism industry with ‘culture’. Lunenburg? Tourism (scenic ex-fishing village) town a short drive from Halifax = cheap accomodations for artists. None of these examples show that ‘culture’ came first. I’d say you have produced some great examples showing that Florida is wrong.

    “In fact, I’d expand Florida’s definition because within companies there can be a LOT of creative processes. ”

    Well, you can expand Florida’s thesis but then it becomes meaningless – ideas and creativity are not restricted to the ‘creative community’ as defined by Florida. If you make that expansion then ipso facto you are disagreeing with Florida.

  8. Lunenburg was blt around fishing and a foundry. Folk art came later. Cavendish would be empty 10 months of the year except for Irving’s french fry plant. The other did make good use of culture to dress up the scars of addicted gamblers.

  9. In this world of high tech and mass production, I do see some potential for grandma’s craft stand at the annual Christmas show, energy-hyped teenager’s cool tie dyed skateboarding teeshirts and revived hippie’s garage bands selling some itunes. What I fail to see is how these opportunities will transform into tax paying jobs.

  10. Tourism is ALL about culture-you think people travel to Cavendish to see a french fry plant? Nobody said that PEI was hopping all year long, outside the carribean EVERY place suffers the ‘winter lag’, thats not the fault of tourism, but of seasons.

    Tourism IS a cultural venture, people can ‘see’ changing colours on their laptop,they don’t need to go to Vermont. The fact that Lunenburg exists and doesn’t look like Atholville is my point, EVERY tourist town was SOMETHING before, but we’re not going back to the vikings here.

    It takes more than a jazz festival to build a tourist sector, as New Brunswick well knows. However, Moncton has been attempting to build on that, and NB has lately been putting on more festivals than I”ve seen here in the technology triangle.

    I’m certainly not saying to focus on tourism, only saying that that is an example of the ‘creative enterprise’, you can’t have festivals if you don’t ‘create’ them first. But for the anonymous above, maybe that post was too long but I wrote in detail how exactly those enterprises develop into tax paying jobs.

    As for Florida, I did listen to a talk that he gave where he DID state that his version of creativity was very alive and well in SOME corporation and defended himself against the idea that his ED theory is ‘add some galleries downtown and you’ll get economic development’. So I’m NOT disagreeing with him.

  11. Well Mikel, one of the big problems entrepreneurs here claim they cannot get further than the government funding they are given is the lack of venture capital. Personally, I think this is a cop out for their lack of quality ideas. However, if Bay Street starts investing in our craft booths and basement bands, I promise you I will stand on Bay Street naked and wave the New Brunswick flag.

  12. “I’m certainly not saying to focus on tourism”

    Yes you are. Those are the examples you have given, and tourism is the road to low-end jobs for most employees.

    “I did listen to a talk that he gave ”

    You’d be better off reading his book, which has less room for back-pedaling.

  13. Which entrepreneurs are those? You mean the cancer researcher in Moncton who got twice what he was looking for when the media covered his research?

    I don’t know about Bay Street, nobody is talking about that. Go talk to any of the thousands of new bands that have started up and are peddling their wares on itunes. Go to the PEI government website where you can buy TONS of ‘craft’ items that are shipped worldwide.

    As for Richard, almost NONE of my examples were tourism, so read my comments before criticizing. Music, animation, television, film, and on and on were my examples, and each of those are well known to be billion dollar industries. If you’d rather train the next generation to be computer techs in a network hub, that’s your business, but thats not what I was talking about. As for Florida, a person’s theories are more than one book, you can argue infinitum against a book if thats what suits you, but economic development ideas grow and change all the time.

  14. I am sure there are niches for creative economy successes; every once and a while a fad like pet rocks comes along that will make a living for a few people. It may be possible to fill in some gaps with these things but New Brunswick needs some solid foundation building blocks in its economy.

    Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Alberta have oil. Quebec has aerospace. Ontario has automotive and finance. BC has biotech. I think New Brunswick needs more than a craft web site to become a ‘have’ province.

  15. Regarding entrepreneurs that Mikel asked about, in a recent bitech survey, access to capital was the top barrier to advancing their research to commercialization (published in Biotech). It is the latest of a string or survey data that identifies access to capital as a limitation. Mikel, you have to remember that Federal programs like NCE are not designed for or targeted at New Brunswick entrepreneurs and researchers. Nor are we within driving distance of the national center of finance; our local banks cannot even make decisions.

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