Maine’s Creative Economy — on the Move

Governor Baldacci gives John Rohman, chair of the Maine Arts Commission, an award from the Maine Film Office for his work with the creative economy. The governor’s new Maine Attraction Film Tax Incentive law gives tax breaks to film companies that choose to produce movies in Maine.

"We’ve never been able to compete with other states, and now we can," said Lea Girardin, director of the state’s Film Office. "Just this week alone we had four new production calls coming into the office."

By Ramona du Houx

Governor John E. Baldacci is a forward thinker whose vision for the state includes all aspects of living in Maine — "the way life should be."

He listens to people, analyzes what needs to be accomplished in an area, sets up a team to gather further information, and takes immediate action. He builds coalitions to achieve objectives for the benefit of all Mainers. He has positioned Maine well for the 21st-century knowledge-based economy.

Because he understands that one issue never can be fully isolated — they are all interrelated — he was able to embrace the potential of promoting the creative economy from the start and held a creative economy conference which led to communities all around Maine identifying and strengthening their creative economy segments.

Young people came up to the governor after the first conference and told him how excited they were that they would be able to do the things they love to do here in Maine. "I felt that was what it’s all about," said Baldacci. "It’s exciting, and it’s happening here."

Since the conference, the governor formed the Creative Economy Council, signed legislation to support creative economy initiatives, formed the Creative Economy Steering Committee, funded local initiatives, and approved tax incentives aimed at expanding Maine’s film industry.

The interrelated nature of the creative economy and its benefits are just beginning to be understood.

Stress-release activities enhance the quality of life. Going to see a good play, a concert, or enjoying an ethnic festival, releases stress. Working day in, day out, without some relief from the tensions leads to lethargy and a decrease in workers’ productivity. Just having a local restaurant or café to sit down and relax in enhances life. Being able to enjoy fresh air and outdoor activities in nature are major stress relievers.

Living in "suburbia USA" and commuting long distances to work has led to dissatisfaction for millions of Americans. According to a nationwide survey, Americans are not any "happier or satisfied" than they were in the 1950s, though incomes have increased. The reason was attributed to "the lack of quality of life."

New handbooks produced will help entrepreneurs access tools to succeed

At the renovated Bates Mill Complex in Lewiston last June, Governor Baldacci presented two new resource booklets: Maine’s Creative Economy Community Handbook: Maine State Government Resources for Communities and Maine’s Creative Economy: Connecting Creativity, Commerce & Community. These publications are available online at the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD), www.econdevmaine.com or at their offices throughout the state.

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"The quality of our workers is second to none," said the governor. "Mainers are the gold standard. The economic engines that create opportunity are our people — our youth, our creative workers and our creative entrepreneurs — and we must provide them with the resources and support to be able to succeed," said Baldacci. "With the release of the handbook and the report, we have established a clear path to continue Maine’s growth in the creative industries."

According to the report the creative economy comprises 67,446 people. They earn an average of $48,557, which is 33 percent higher than the state average of $32,661. In 2003, Maine’s arts and cultural sectors generated $1.5 billion in sales.

The handbook serves as a guide for communities and groups looking to cultivate the creative sector in their area. Examples of success stories have been highlighted in the booklet along with tools to organize creative assets for economic and community development.

According to the report, from 2000 to 2004 Maine’s creative workforce added 5,474 jobs to the economy and grew by nine percent, compared to the state’s overall job growth rate of seven percent.

The report states: "In measuring Maine’s arts and cultural sector, we can estimate the size of the tip of the iceberg, but under the surface exists an even larger critical mass of creative talent that, with targeted business assistance, may be leveraged into new sources of income for Maine people."

The handbook brings together the different agencies for creative entrepreneurs to contact for business assistance — something never done before. The listings that describe different organizations to contact, that provide business and community support, infrastructure, and funding resources, are invaluable.

"We wanted to provide all of the tools and knowledge necessary for communities to start or expand the creative economy at the local grassroots level. This is an important step," said Jeff Sosnaud, DECD deputy commissioner. "Creative industries are going to keep Maine competitive on a global level."

The report recommends expanding the industry 20 percent by 2015 with these actions:

• Following the governor’s plan to grow the state’s research and development activity to $1 billion per year by 2010

• Doubling the arts and cultural sector

• Improving infrastructure

• Continuing investment in the creative workforce

• Continuing support in art education, revitalization of downtowns, and fostering creative partnerships

Todd McIntosh and Jon Tuttle moved their high-end cabinetry business to Lewiston in 2000, but at that time every bank in town turned them down for a loan. They contacted the Small Businesses Administration and made their dream a reality. McIntosh said this new handbook would have helped, and he is glad that it is now there for others to access. He thanked the governor for believing in the creative economy as a real economic force.

"We started out projecting 100,000 in annual business — we ended up doing close to a million," said McIntosh.

"As governor of the state of Maine, accepting the challenges that we have as a state, you don’t want to be undertaking things that aren’t good fits for Maine. The initiatives, the programs, the policies that you are trying to implement are polices that should stimulate and grow the state. We don’t want to waste our time on things that aren’t good things for Maine. We have to continue to grow Maine by playing off of our strengths. That’s why I’m excited about the creative economy. It has always been a good fit for Maine," said the governor. "With this initiative, and my overarching vision for the state, we’re going to continue to see Maine grow."

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"The creative economy has strongly resonated with both artists and economic developers," said John Rohman, chair of the Maine Arts Commission. Rohman said the handbook can be used to cultivate small arts-based endeavors, as well as part of a plan to attract larger technology-based industries to an area.

Rohman, an owner of an architectural firm that employs 75 people who are working on projects all over America, has been the catalyst for communities to focus on the creative economy for a long time. He was key in helping Bangor embrace its potential, and was instrumental in having the University of Maine at Orono move its museum, making it more accessible.

The creative economy involves everyone. Though people generally think of it as artists, architects, and designers, there are a host of other businesses, community organizations, and educational institutions that play a vital role.

According to Richard Florida’s book on the creative economy, there are three major components: talent, technology, and tolerance.

Talent —

The talent in Portland and other Maine communities is obvious. Portland is home to 352 arts-related businesses that employ more than 2,300 people. Creative businesses sustain the city’s economic vitality, help tourism, and promote economic development. "I believe that the arts are certainly good for the soul, and I know that art means business in Portland," said Mayor James Cohen. "Arts, culture, and our creative businesses are absolutely essential to what Portland is all about."

Inc. Magazine recently ranked the City of Portland 20th in the list of "Best Midsize Cities for Business."

"The creative economy starts at the grass roots," said McIntosh. His Lewiston business relies on over 100 local artisans for high-end finishing work for their cabinets. "The recognition of the creative economy has given craftspeople new-found enthusiasm for what we do, it’s made us feel valued, and renewed our sense of pride in what we do. Maine has a long heritage of incredible quality craftsmanship; hopefully we’re continuing that tradition."

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Governor Baldacci admires an Indian talking stick, which was a gift from Penobscot tribal Chief James Sappier. The creative economy promotes traditional arts. Recently the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance store in Old Town has added different kinds of traditional crafts to meet market interest.

"Bangor is a real leader among communities around the state for finding an appropriate way to address the arts and culture and the creative economy within its local structure," said Arts Commission Director Alden Wilson. "It’s the only city in Maine, to my knowledge, that has created a cultural commission within city government."

Cities big or small are realizing that talented people are assets. Rockland formed Midcoast Magnet to attract young, creative professionals to the Midcoast Maine area. Across the state eight cities have been designated as Maine Street Maine communities and are revitalizing their areas, embracing the talented people in their communities.

Technology —

The technology component is being able to have access to the highest quality information technology (IT). Companies providing these services are an integral component of the creative economy. With the governor’s ConnectME program internet technology infrastructure and telecommuting are expanding on a daily basis.

Educating students in IT technology by ensuring the laptop program continues — and is expanded upon — will continue to build a knowledge-based workforce for the future. The governor, working with the Legislature, secured the needed funds for the program during the last session.

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Andrew Harris is the executive director of L/A Arts, a community organization in Lewiston/Auburn that has been promoting the arts since 1972. Every summer L/A Arts puts on free plays. "It’s wonderful, people from all backgrounds can enjoy a summer’s evening," said Harris. Organizations like L/A Arts add to the quality of life that enriches the creative economy. "L/A Arts is a catalyst for arts in the community."

Tolerance —

The people of Maine have proven, with their vote against discrimination last November, when they defended the governor’s antidiscrimination law, that they are tolerant of all law-abiding citizens.

In 2003, when outside influences tried to force their opinions onto the people of Maine, Lewiston stood up for their Somali population. In record numbers the people of Maine took to the streets, demonstrating that they believe in diversity and living in a tolerant society.

This July a pig’s head was thrown into a Muslim temple in downtown Lewiston. This desecrating hate crime attacks believers of the Muslim faith who do not eat pork. Lewiston police acted swiftly and apprehended the criminal.

"It is important for all of us in the state of Maine to recognize that Americans and Mainers should be able to offer prayer in a house of worship and that an attack on anyone’s house of prayer is an attack on all of our houses of prayer," said Baldacci when he opened Maine’s first Multicultural Office in Portland, a week after the incident. "All that’s necessary for us to do is to not quietly stand by, but to stand as one — as citizens of this state — to say we will not tolerate this kind of behavior."

Stand as one they did.

At a rally at Kennedy Park in Lewiston, people of a variety of denominations, people of many occupations, and students displayed their solidarity with the governor.

Maine has the required T’s of the creative economy in abundance.

Cities throughout Maine celebrate the diversity of our cultures. The American Folk Festival in Bangor brings people together from all across the state. L/A Arts in Lewiston offers a host of educational arts activities as well as free summer concerts. The state even has a Shakespearean Festival at Monmouth Theater, and schools throughout Maine benefit from the theater’s traveling Shakespearean plays. These events enrich Maine’s ever evolving creative economy.

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Governor Baldacci visited the Munjoy Hill Observatory, which was recently renovated. Museums, libraries, and historic sites are all vital to the creative economy.

"Maine is the place to be. Continuing to invest in Maine’s natural resources and cultural heritage will strengthen Maine’s brand as a great state to live and do business. "

—Governor Baldacci

With the creative economy, people who have been laid off from jobs that used to represent security can now find new avenues to make incomes, after becoming retrained in the governor’s community college system. Their new professions have given them skills that add to Maine’s creative economy and hope for their futures.

Maine’s entrepreneurial spirit is being fostered and encouraged in a new educational push to encourage students to become small-business oriented in grade school, high school, as well as in the community colleges and university system.

The creative economy is revitalizing downtowns across the state as entrepreneurs are following their dreams and opening new business. Over 1,400 small businesses were launched over the past three years, creating 5,000 new jobs. This is the creative economy on the move.

According to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, most new job growth in Maine is coming from small businesses. The study said Maine has 360 entrepreneurs for every 10,000 Mainers, well above the national average of 290 per 10,000. This ranks Maine 13th in the nation for entrepreneurial activity.

As one of five states that are experiencing an in-migration, Maine is also welcoming a diverse group of entrepreneurs. Some are people coming to the state to retire, some are baby boomers who have made good incomes. The latter are now changing their professions and are actively looking for "quality-life" areas to relocate to — places were they can realize their dreams in good communities, with good internet connections.

"The creative economy is a major piece of my economic development plan," said the governor.

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Governor Baldacci celebrates with the director of Empire Falls, Fred Schepisi, its writer Richard Russo, and a local cast member Delia Robertson, before the HBO premier of the film in Waterville. When the film’s production came to the state, Maine made $38 million through economic development. With the governor’s new film tax incentive, calls for potential film projects, television, and commercials have been received at the Film Office.

Waterville also hosts an international film festival, which just received a grant from the Office of Tourism for $50,000.

"The best way to grow Maine’s economy is through creative enterprise," said David Cheever of Maine’s Cultural Affairs Council. "The creative economy taps into why people do what they do. The quality of life in Maine is so good, people want to live here. We need to trumpet the success story of how Maine is continuing to attract people in the creative sector. The governor sees where the best chance of growth is, in the economy, and that’s in people who want to live here and do things that ad value to all our lives."

When Empire Falls came to the state, Maine made $38 million through economic development. With the new Maine Attraction Film Tax Incentive law, which gives tax breaks to film companies that choose to produce movies in Maine, the Film Office has begun to receive calls inquiring about potential films.

"We’ve never been able to compete with other states, and now we can," said Lea Girardin, director of the state’s Film Office, also thanking the governor for his leadership. "Just this week alone we had four to five new production calls coming into the office."