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      Manufacturing ideas rather than widgets could drive Franklin County's economic future according to Advancing Vermont's Creative Economy, a report released Monday by the Vermont Council on Rural Development.
      "Vermont's economy today is driven by businesses that are inherently creative," said Paul Costello, VCRD executive director and primary author of the report. The report found that It is no longer news that culture is big business. The New England Council (NEC), one of the nation's oldest business associations, recently documented that New England's "creative cluster" employs nearly a quarter of a million people, with an annual payroll of $4.3 billion.
      Between 1994 and 2003, Vermont Meals Tax revenues increased 38%. Rockingham's rose 120%. The Sales and Use Tax rose 28% statewide but 36% in Rockingham. The difference? Robert McBride founded the Rockingham Arts and Museum Project (RAMP) and brought the arts to town. That means the arts could well be the "anchor store" of any downtown project.
      The report has a statewide slant, but the recommendations have strong local connotations as well. They offer directions for St. Albans and all of Franklin County to cash in on businesses that rely on creativity, ingenuity, and intelligence.
      "There is a fair amount of momentum building" as agencies and businesses begin implementing this report, Mr. Costello said, "and there will be resources for centers in different parts of the state. St. Albans is one that everyone recognizes as a place with great activity and great potential."
      One of the primary ways to attract economic development based on creativity is to exploit the state's cultural and historical assets. Indeed, the report suggests that using a community's cultural assets is necessary for a creative economy to flourish. It is also necessary to attract and keep high quality employees in existing businesses.
      The report lays out four broad action areas for state business and political leaders to follow:
      Support the growth of creative enterprises through marketing, purchasing decisions and networks;
      Promote and document the role that creativity, culture and innovation play in Vermont's economic future;
      Invest in communities so they can build on their past while adapting for a vibrant future; and
      Develop Vermont's creative economy through community-based planning and improved statewide collaboration.

      Those action areas have a special meaning here in Franklin County. Five key recommendations in the report give us ways to support creative enterprises through special events, marketing and Vermont brand enhancements, technical assistance, education, and by changing our strategic priorities.
      Highlight the Creative and Cultural Life through local special events.
      The AAC will join other organizations to participate in the new Arts and Artisans Weekend that will coincide with the Vermont Open Studio Weekend. Museums can participate in the new Vermont History and Heritage Month. This column spotlights festivals and events around the County every week.
      Develop a "Vermont Artists and Artisans" identity and marketing campaign.
      The AAC, FCIDC, the Franklin County Regional Chamber of Commerce, Vermont Handcrafters, and independent artists must join the effort for a Vermont Artists and Artisans identity similar to the new Vermont Forest Products logo and its marketing campaign. Salable, original creations by Franklin County artists or artisans will receive significant in-state and out-of-state marketing support.
      Provide technical support to culturally-based businesses and artists alike.
      Groups including St. Albans for the Future and the AAC now provide local technical support to artists, presenters, and to culturally-based businesses. The report recommends increasing the annual appropriation to the Vermont Small Business Development Center to train technical assistance providers to work with artists and other culturally based businesses.
      Reinforce Arts and Heritage Education.
      Area schools, existing employers, groups such as St. Albans for the Future, and the AAC must augment local community-based arts and heritage education. Implementation of the existing Vermont Framework of Standards and Learning Opportunities for arts and humanities is spotty; it should provide a "Vermont Content" curriculum for K-12 students in history, geography, arts, humanities, and culture. We can create partnerships between the area schools, town libraries, businesses, museums, service groups, and other cultural organizations.
      Make Culture and Heritage local strategic priorities for Community Development.
      We need to keep Culture and Heritage on the "front burner." Resources for Towns include tapping the VTrans Enhancement Program for aesthetic improvements and downtown projects that highlight the work of local architects, artists, craftspeople, designers, and materials. Franklin County municipalities already have public murals and other accessible art, but every new project brings new opportunities. At the same time, a Leadership Education Aptitude Development (LEAD) project team is beginning the first community needs and arts resources survey since 1995.
      Community development is a springboard for economic development. Next week, we will look at some of the community development projects.

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      Advancing Vermont's Creative Economy, VCCI's Final Report and Recommendations is available online. Click here for a copy. It is a one megabyte .PDF file; you will need the (free) Adobe Reader. For a printed copy, e-mail your name and mailing address to Creative Economy Report.

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