Maine’s Creative Economy is studied by a Northern Irish Delegation

PHOTO RIGHT: DECD Commissioner John Richardson talks with Virginia Manuel at the reception for the Northern Irish Delegatio. photo by Ramona du Houx

Members of the Coleraine Borough Council meet the Governor John Baldacci and the First Lad, Karen, at the Blaine House

Last spring a delegation of business, tourism, and elected officials from Northern Ireland visited Maine specifically to explore Governor John Baldacci's "creative economy" initiative.

The delegation toured the state from Portland to Orono and points in between. Meetings were held with the Department of Economic and Community Development, the Arts Commission, UMO, GrowSmart Maine, MidCoast Magnet and the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, among others.

The following are the insights from the trip by Maurice Bradley, Mayor of Coleraine, a member of the Northern Ireland Delegation, and Virginia Manuel, who helped arrange the cross-cultural mission.

Maine & Northern Ireland Can Learn From Each Other

By Virginia Manuel. Her   company, Manuel &.Associates promotes Maine/Maritime-Northern Ireland economic, government, R&D, educational and cultural linkages.

I have had the privilege to work to promote economic links between Northern Ireland and the U.S. since 1994. At that time, as senior advisor at the U.S. Department of Commerce in Washington, I was charged along with a Commerce Department team to organize U.S. economic initiatives to underpin the Northern Ireland peace process. That peace process was initiated as a result of ceasefires declared by both the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland in 1994, but efforts had actually begun several years before in private meetings among leading figures in the British and Irish government and the IRA.

Some of the commercial initiatives that we organized in the 1990s were international trade and investment conferences held in Washington, DC and Pittsburgh, respectively, and five U.S. trade missions to Northern Ireland to both promote U.S. exports in the region and to encourage joint ventures and strategic alliances between U.S., Northern Ireland, and border counties of Ireland companies. During that sustained period of peace, Northern Ireland’s economy took off with significant amounts of foreign investment (FDI) and the increase of U.S. companies investing in Northern Ireland went from under 50 to approximately 100 companies. There was also enormous business growth from within. Northern Ireland’s unemployment rate also dropped precipitously from over 17 percent to under 6 percent by the time I left the Commerce Department for the private sector in 2001. Today it is under 5 per cent.

Northern Ireland had also achieved a good deal of political independence in the 1990s by signing up to the Belfast or Good Friday Agreement brokered by Senator George Mitchell at the request of the British and Irish Governments. That agreement triggered, among other things, elections in the region, whereby the Northern Ireland Assembly was restored and local matters from agriculture to environment to education to trade and investment were the responsibilities of locally elected Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs).

What struck me almost immediately about Northern Ireland in my very first visits was the similarity that it had to my home state of Maine in several areas. Those similarities include population size (NI is 1.6 million — Maine is 1.3 million people), industry sector strengths (information technologies, health technologies, and environmental technologies are strong sectors in both regions), maritime heritages (both regions have extensive rugged coastlines on the Atlantic Ocean with a fishing industry), and the Scots-Irish ancestry exhibited in both Maine and Northern Ireland. Finally English is the common language in both areas, and the legal systems are similar.DECD Commissioner John Richardson talks with Virginia Manuel at the reception for the Northern Irish Delegation in Maine. photo by Ramona du Houx

What is often not discussed, however, is how easy Maine would be as an access point into the U.S. market for Northern Ireland companies and how Northern Ireland offers similar ease of access to Maine companies as a port of entry to the rest of the U.K. and the European market.

PHOTO RIGHT: DECD Commissioner John Richardson talks with Virginia Manuel at the reception for the Northern Irish Delegation

Because of these similarities, my company has sought to encourage government, business, civic, and research-and-development links between Maine and Northern Ireland since 2001. Some of the activities with which we have been involved or organized are:

• In November 2002, the cities of Derry/Londonderry and Coleraine, Northern Ireland, visited Maine in an 18-person delegation to explore civic, trade, investment, and research-and-development links between Northern Ireland and Maine;

• This mission was followed on by a trade mission comprised of a number of Maine companies and public officials led by Governor John Baldacci to Coleraine, Derry, and Belfast, Northern Ireland, and Dublin, Ireland, in October 2003;

• Officials from Maine’s universities and research institutions made follow-on visits to Northern Ireland universities in 2004-5;

• In 2006 civic officials and scientists from Coleraine, Northern Ireland, and the University of Ulster again visited Maine to encourage civic collaboration and research-and-development collaborations with Maine communities and research institutions in two different visits.

From April 6-11, another delegation from Northern Ireland of mayors and chief executives, tourism officials, and private companies from Coleraine, Newtonabby, Ards, and Banbridge, Northern Ireland — a total of 18 — came to Maine to examine the state’s creative economy initiatives following on the Blaine House Conference on the Creative Economy in 2004 and subsequent state and local efforts to promote Maine’s creative economy. The mission included meetings and site visits in the cities of Portland and Bangor, Brunswick, and Topsham, and Rockland, Camden, and Thomaston. Organizations or companies that we visited were the Universities of Maine and Southern Maine, the USM Muskie School, the Department of Economic and Community Development, the Maine Arts Commission, TD Banknorth, and Bangor Savings Bank, GrowSmart Maine, Five River Arts Alliance, MidCoast Magnet, the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, and several of Maine’s creative economy companies, including DeLorme, Lyman Morse Shipbuilding, and Penobscot Bay Media, among others.

What the Northern Ireland officials learned about Maine’s creative economy is that it is alive and well and flourishing in every place we visited. More than 63,000 Maine residents are currently employed in the creative sector (55,889 in the technology sector and 7,543 in the arts and culture sector), and it comprises 12 percent of the Maine economy, we were advised by the University of Southern Maine. From our perspectives and from what we heard along the way as we toured southern, central, and coastal Maine, the only place Maine has to go in its creative economy efforts is up. And it is going up.Bangor, Maine. Photo by Ramona du Houx

Governor John Baldacci, who launched the Blaine House Conference on the Creative Economy in 2004 and First Lady Karen Baldacci warmly received us during the Northern Ireland delegation’s recent Maine visit. Both have continued to promote Maine’s creative economy.

PHOTO RIGHT: Bangor, amongst other Maine cities, was visited by the Northern Irish Delegation

Commissioner John Richardson of the Department of Economic and Community Development, Pat Eltman, director of tourism, and Donna McNeil, director of the Maine Arts Commission, are important players in encouraging the ongoing growth of the creative economy or "innovation economy" as some call it. Technology businesses, research and development by our universities and private research institutions, cultural tourism, and arts/culture all contribute to Maine’s creative economy. We need to nurture all facets of this rich growth sector, which, as we discovered during our mission, is so important to Maine’s vitality and economic prosperity.

Our Mission to Maine —      By Maurice Bradley, Mayor of Coleraine

As part of a delegation from Northern Ireland representing the council areas of Ards, Coleraine, Banbridge, Down, Larne, Newtownabbey, Causeway Coast and Glens Tourism Partnership, and the private sector, it was a busy, challenging, but highly beneficial and stimulating visit to Maine to study the state’s creative economy model.

As this was my first trip to the U.S.A., coming from a country world renowned for our hospitality, I felt at ease and at home, such was the warm welcome we received from first landing at Portland airport.

But we were here on a mission. That mission would take us from Portland through Brunswick, Augusta, Bangor, Camden, Rockland, back to Portland, and in-between we had the privilege and pleasure of visiting the state Capitol building for a seminar and then meeting Governor John Baldacci in the Blaine House.

In terms of the creative economy, I believe we have it in bucketfuls — but what’s missing is our ability to capture all of this activity in a meaningful and coherent strategy for Northern Ireland. As a local council, I believe we can and will play a key role in pulling together all the stakeholders in this area, as well as assisting our creative people in the community, to provide a professional and state-of-the-art product or service to our local people, tourists, and visitors alike.

There are many similarities between Maine and Northern Ireland. Both are endowed with beautiful scenery, both are sparsely populated with residents centered around the provinces’ main towns and both Maine and Northern Ireland enjoy beautiful and unspoilt coastlines. Therefore, the delegation was looking forward to the week ahead.

On Monday, April 7, the group met at the University of Southern Maine. Richard Barringer, a research professor at USM’s Muskie School of Public Service welcomed the delegation and this study morning set the tone for what was to be a very busy week. Also that day the group received a presentation on GrowSmart Maine, showing how important it is for Maine to grow in the right direction.

Tuesday saw the group visit Brunswick and the Five Rivers Alliance and then on to the impressive Fort Andross where they observed the building’s many studios and had a welcome lunch at the Frontier Cafe.DECD Commissioner John Richardson talks with various Northern Irish members of the Delegation during a Blaine House reception. photo by Ramona du Houx

On to Augusta and meetings followed by a reception at the Blaine House with Governor John Baldacci, a terrific leader and supporter of Maine’s creative economy.

PHOTO RIGHT: DECD Commissioner John Richardson talks with various Northern Irish members of the Delegation during a Blaine House reception

It was here that I had a chance to present the governor with a watercolor of a seascape that he had expressed on an earlier trip to Northern Ireland as "breathtaking." It was during this meeting that the governor said he and the first lady would be paying a return visit to Northern Ireland. We look forward to that visit and the opportunity to repay the hospitality extended to the delegation during our Maine trip.

Wednesday, saw the group at Bangor and start the day with Tracey Stutzman, executive director of Maine Crafts Association, followed by a walk to downtown Bangor's Maine Discovery Museum and the University of Maine Museum of Art.

At the University of Maine we visited the UM Advanced Engineered Wood Composite Centre, where the group were enthralled to learn of the advances in wood-composite materials.

Thursday was another busy day and on to the beautiful Knox Mill. What a scenic setting for meetings with Know Technologies and Penobscot Bay Media, world leaders in computer robotics.

After lunch a tour of the fantastic Lyman Morse boatbuilding operation, where the group marveled at the high-level, skilled, workforce working on a catamaran and three powerboats in the yard.

On to Farnsworth Museum and roundtable discussions on the creative economy.

On Friday the delegation visited the Maine Research Institute before a reception at Portland City Hall.

Was the visit a success? Yes. With the reorganization of government in Northern Ireland reducing the number of councils from 26 to 11, over 50 percent of the new council groupings were represented. This give a good opportunity of closer working relationships with individual councils on a regional project like the creative economy. On the plane home was Dr. Ian Paisley, first minister in Northern Ireland, fresh from announcing a $150 million investment package for Northern Ireland earlier that day in New York. The visit was therefore timely as well as beneficial.

As a delegation we will meet again shortly to analyze our findings from the trip. This will be followed up with a meeting with political leaders in the Northern Ireland Assembly. But there can be no doubt, the state of Maine has proved that the creative economy is many things to many men. It cannot be pinned down as any one thing, but collectively it does work and it does exist. Can we in Northern Ireland encourage more participation from our universities in their local and Northern Ireland communities? It is well worth the investment and effort to find out.

Thank you to Virginia Manuel, and Wavel Moore for organizing such an informative and busy schedule and to the governor and the state of Maine.