States creative economy comes calling
SPRINGFIELD — Springfield has some of the fastest Internet speeds in the state, thanks to the presence of Vermont Telephone Company, also known as Vtel, in town, said Lars Hasselblad Torres, director of Vermont’s new Office of Creative Economy, and it’s an asset the town should exploit with gusto.
Torres spoke to about 30 people last week at a meeting sponsored by Springfield On The Move, the downtown development group, and said the state was putting more emphasis on Vermont’s entrepreneurs, as well as its entrepreneurial past.
Springfield at one time was a leader in everything from new designs for dolls and doll carriages to computer-controlled machine tools, with many Springfield residents holding patents.
Torres asked the group how that spirit of innovation could be nurtured and fanned, and he said Vermont had the eighth highest start-up rate in the country.
Torres was appointed earlier this year to the new post, which was created by the 2011 Legislature as a way of supporting the creative economy, which he said included the film and new media industry, advertising and marketing, software development and gamesmaking, arts and cultural organizations, as well as the manufacturing arts.
Torres said he would like to add architecture, music and publishing to that list, noting there was a publishing “hotspot” in the Upper Valley, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Torres said that while there are 7,000 jobs in Vermont in the creative economy, that represents about 5 percent of the total economy, and about half of what is represented by manufacturing.
But in general, he said, they are well-paying jobs and considered “green.”
He used the example of the website Kickstarter.com as a key tool for the creative economy, raising money in an unconventional way.
In 2013, more than $660,000 was raised in Vermont via Kickstarter, he said, while the Vermont Arts Council gave out $540,000 in grants, and the Vermont Community Foundation awarded $1 million in arts.
Looking through Kickstarter is like looking at “a catalog of creativity,” he said, mentioning several local successful Kickstarter campaigns.
The do-it-yourselfers are finding new ways of finance, he said.
Torres himself started Local64, a space collective in Montpelier. Torres said other similar space-sharing venues, such as the Artisans Asylum in Somerville, Mass., called “maker spaces” are very valuable to their communities and the creative economy network.
Co-worker space is valuable for the self-employed because it breaks the isolation of working alone and at home, he said, adding typically 40 people are needed to support such space.
Torres said Vermont had a high percentage of self-employed people, which leads naturally to the creative economy.
Vermont has had a reputation of creativity and excellence dating back to 1893, Torres said, when a state butter maker won best in show in the culinary capital of the world — Paris.
One woman, Sabrina Smith, said the town could do a better job promoting its hidden assets. She said the Stellafane Convention, an annual convention for amateur telescopemakers, was a perfect example. “Springfield has to become its own cheerleader,” she said.
“Stellafane is amazing,” Smith said. “It’s a well-kept secret.”
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