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State's creative economy employs 64,000 people: officials looking to add to sector.

Although creativity has abounded in Mississippi as long as anyone can remember, the concept of treating that creative force as part of the state's economic development has been around only a few years. Discussions began in 2009 between the Mississippi Development Authority and the Mississippi Arts Commission. The two state agencies partnered for a study in 2010 and announced findings to the public in August 2011. In less than two years since the creative economy was rolled out, the concept has been embraced across the state.

"Philosophically, the thinking was that Mississippi has produced so many creative people, products and communities in an organic climate, that we wanted to take a snapshot and see what the inventory and volume was and if we could succeed in growing the sector," says Malcolm White, director of MDA's Tourism Division and former director of the Mississippi Arts Commission. "We were surprised and delighted to find that 3.5 percent of our economy was attributed to this sector and 64,000 existing workers or jobs could be tied to this body of work."

The study found that the Creative Economy employs people in job sectors ranging from design to culinary arts to museums and heritage. Towns, cities, counties, universities, community colleges, businesses and attractions have seen the potential and signed on to the concept.

One such business is the Maris West & Baker advertising agency in Jackson. "We made a decision to be a Mississippi agency and part of the state's creative economy," agency president Peter Marks said. "We think our state and all we have to offer has been a well-kept secret. We have a lot of good agencies in the state, and there's good work being created that's cutting edge with less costs."

The city of Ocean Springs has been especially successful with the creative economy. "Creative economy is about inspiring locals to become entrepreneurs of their dreams. Whether it be the love of painting, playing a musical instrument, dancing or creating a culinary masterpiece, it all stimulates our economy," said Margaret Miller, director of the town's Chamber of Commerce--Main Street--Tourism Bureau.

The Jackson County town is known for festivals, the largest being the Peter Anderson Arts & Crafts Festival, which has been held for 35 years each November.

"Vendors, artists, crafters, musicians, shoppers, diners and vacationers come from all over to be part of this event, bringing in a $23-million economic impact to Ocean Springs and Jackson County per a Mississippi State University study," Miller said.

In addition to Ocean Springs, Malcolm White says Oxford, Clarksdale, Fondren and Midtown communities in Jackson, Rolling Fork, Pelahatchie, Water Valley and Meridian--and many more--are among the successful examples of endorsing the creative economy.

"Every community has creative resources and assets, some are more aware of these components than others," White said. "MDA Asset Development Division incorporates the cultural and creative strategies as a methodology to helping communities realize this advantage.

"The creative economy is a holistic approach to economic development and is the sum of all wealth generated by the state's cultural and creative enterprises, institutions, people and places. It adds value to traditional economic sectors such as manufacturing, agriculture, service and tourism, while influencing where people choose to travel, live, work and learn."

Another measure of the concept's success is the conversation around the creative economy and the placement of state employees managing the language, programs and grants at MDA and MAC. This body of work was incorporated into Blue Print Mississippi, the state's strategic economic plan, in 2012 and has full-time staff at MDA and MAC.

"We have begun several pilot programs around the state to implement strategies and best practices to advance and foster the growth and vitality of Mississippi's creative economy," White said. "We are in production of a companion document of Mississippi's cultural inventory to be released in July 2013. The success of the program will be determined by statewide community buy-in and individual community strategies implemented both with state assistance and with their own resources."

Looking to the future, White hopes the strategies and language of the creative economy will be incorporated into community life to help every Mississippi city, county and crossroad increase its creative capacity, grow its economy and build civic pride. "We intend to continue to include this tool in the toolkit of every policy maker, elected official, educator, faith-based leader and community volunteer across all 82 counties and to all 2.9 million people in Mississippi," he said.

Additional economic figures, successful examples and helpful information, including Ten Steps Your Community can take towards a more creative economy are on the website www.mscreativeeconomy.com.

LYNN LOFTON | CONTRIBUTOR

mbj@msbusiness.com
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Title Annotation:ARTS & THE ECONOMY
Comment:State's creative economy employs 64,000 people: officials looking to add to sector.(ARTS & THE ECONOMY)
Author:Lofton, Lynn
Publication:Mississippi Business Journal
Geographic Code:1U6MS
Date:May 10, 2013
Words:775
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