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New study touts Mississippi’s potential

Malcolm White discusses the future of Mississippi in regard to what has been called “The Creative Economy.

The “creative economy” includes individuals such as artists, architects, chefs and professors, creative industries such as Peavey Electronics, Viking Range Corp., The Elvis Presley Birthplace and Ramey Agency and creative communities including Oxford, Clarksdale, Ocean Springs and Rolling Fork.

The recent Mississippi Creative Economy study concludes that this segment represents approximately 61,000 jobs and just over three percent of the entire workforce in the state with good potential for those numbers to increase.

The study conducted by the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) and the Mississippi Arts Commission (MAC) indicates that innovation and the power to imagine and create new ideas have the potential to create jobs and prosperity, increasing the state’s ability to compete on a global scale.

“The study was conducted in order to explain and introduce the concept of the creative economy to industry professionals, policy makers and citizens of Mississippi,” said MAC director Malcolm White. “Also, it is a snapshot of where this sector organically resides, how much exists and shows the best practices or vignettes of this economy in action. And, finally, the study provides next steps and goals for how to grow, nurture and develop this new economy and demonstrate how the MDA and the MAC propose to partner toward these goals.”

White said the study is unique in several ways:

>> It is the only creative economy study in the country undertaken during the recession.

>> It is the first economic survey to view the “for-profit” and “non-profit” creative economies side by side, and to look at them as one economic driver.

>> It views Mississippi’s creative economy through the multiple lenses of individual creative workers.

The study was rolled out in August, and an event was hosted in late October in Oxford.

“I think that we’ll see a strong interest in the results of this study,” said Christy Knapp, the Oxford-Lafayette County Economic Development Foundation’s (EDF) executive vice president for community and economic development. “We know that there are so many more opportunities for job creation and community investment when we look at the entire spectrum of what Oxford has to offer in the arts, and through innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Knapp said the study shows how important it is for Mississippi cities and counties to invest in the infrastructure that will make the communities throughout the state more creative and vibrant. This study shows how creative talent and enterprise are direct sources of growth that add value to other sectors of the economy such as tourism, communications, information technology and architecture.

“The EDF continues to work at building a creative and innovative culture in Oxford that will lead to the attraction of talented people and businesses,” Knapp said. “The stimulation of innovation and entrepreneurship will lead to more jobs and investment for Oxford’s continued growth and development.”

White said Oxford is uniquely positioned in cultural wealth that includes the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, the University of Mississippi, numerous literary conferences, Square Books and all the of restaurants, coffee shops, cafés and live music venues.

“It is simply a cultural economy,” White said. “This sector often is best demonstrated in college towns because of the ‘town and gown’ synergy, and because of the student base that reflects disposable income and willingness to explore new ideas and experiment.”

The efforts dovetail with the work done through MDA’s Bureau of Film and Cultural Heritage. Ward Emling, who manages that bureau, said they work with and encourage communities to mine their unique assets to attract film projects.

“Oxford has been especially effective in marketing that area as an appealing location for a variety of projects, as well as the ideal venue to house and support crew and cast members,” Emling said. “Community leaders have done an outstanding job in using the area’s literary history and university ties to establish Oxford as a model for embracing and promoting the creative economy. Events like the Oxford Film Festival and Double Decker Arts Festival are examples of that concerted effort at work.”

More meetings such as the one in Oxford are planned elsewhere in the state.

“We’re excited to be taking the MDA/MAC show on the road with regional summits on the creative economy to introduce the study, its findings, the concepts of creative economy, and how communities can benefit,” said MAC Arts-Based Community Development Director Allison Winstead. “A crucial component in moving forward will be a self-assessment tool for communities to be able to measure where they are, chart where they want to be and link to resources to get them there.”

With continuing concern about the state of the economy, and particularly the high rate of joblessness, Winstead said this is a great time for the creative economy discussion.

“We talk about the creative economy as a beacon during difficult economic times, for never was there a more important time for innovation and creativity instead of clichéd and tired responses,” she said. “But we don’t believe this is just a Band-Aid to get us through until the fiscal picture improves. The story of Mississippi communities is a powerful one, and our people one of our greatest assets. We believe the potential for the state to cultivate and harvest this resource has been underutilized and we look forward to being part of the solution in harnessing the power of Mississippi’s creative spirit.”

Current plans for the effort include creating three short documentary films to further explain and exemplify the best practices and vignettes in the study. And six additional vignettes have been commissioned to be added to the existing work: Tupelo, Lazy Magnolia Brewery, Starkville, NunoErin Arts, DeSoto County and Meridian.

For more info, see the website www.mscreativeeconomy.com.

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