The idea behind the "open-ended discussion" was that the economies in both counties could thrive if both communities focus on and promote what's called the "creative economy."
The Institute for Emerging Issues, a public policy organization based at N.C. State University in Raleigh, sponsored the forum and defined a creative economy as being "concerned with firms and workers that produce and/or distribute products and services for that which the aesthetic, intellectual and emotional engagement of the consumer represents the chief component of value for those goods and services in the marketplace."
The Institute for Emerging Issues summarized "community assets" that are part of the creative economy in Anson and Stanly counties as: performing arts, visual arts and crafts, film and broadcast media, design— personal style, media content and construction/architecture, literary and publishing, culture and heritage, culinary arts, technology, and experimental science. These account for about 100 different businesses within the two counties.
Dianne Cherry, environments policy manager with the Institute for Emerging Issues, added that in North Carolina, 5.5 percent of the workforce is made up of creative jobs. Later in the program, Robert Donnan of Regional Technology Strategies stated that in Anson and Stanly counties, 4.1 percent of the economy is made up of what's considered creative employees. That's 1,500 jobs out of 36,000 in both counties. "That's twice the number of jobs in textile manufacturing," he pointed out.
Between 2002-2008, there was an increase of 8 percent in creative jobs, while other jobs experienced no increase or even a slight decrease. "Jobs in the creative economy are often more resilient," Donnan said.
"This is a chance for us to put real strong assets to work for our state," said Ed Jones, associate director of the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service. "We can help train people, provide resources ... help the local economy to build and grow stronger, with Anson and Stanly counties working together. This was a deliberate decision to bring these two counties together."
The program created for Anson and Stanly counties is a pilot program that will eventually be implemented across the state.
A similar program is under way in Arkansas, and the leader of that initiative, Rich Fischer, vice chairman of the North Central Arkansas Regional Economic Development Corporation, video conferenced with the group using Skype. His initiative focused on an eight-county region in Arkansas's Ozarks. Fischer said that in Arkansas, the creative economy is the third largest employer, behind only food development and transportation.
He suggested that the Anson and Stanly County effort brand itself and then promote that brand. In his case, he and the 130 other people who participated in the initiative branded their effort "Naturally Ozark," and created a website, www.naturallyozark.com. He stressed the need to publicize the initiative, through local print and broadcast media, local government meetings and so on.
"Every initiative, no matter how well planned out, encounters challenges," he said. "Rural folks tend to be very clannish, or they don't play well with others. Creative types in general don't lend themselves to being organized. They are free thinkers, individualists."
Funding is another issue the effort is likely to encounter, Fischer said. He added that the initiative should generate revenue, once it gets going.
When asked by a citizen in the room about the challenges of trying to do such an initiative with just two counties, as opposed to the eight-county region in Arkansas, Fischer said that he thought two counties would actually work better, and that his group is considering paring down the number of counties involved in their effort.
During his part in the presentation, Donnan pointed out that although both Anson and Stanly County have rich arts communities, a creative economy is about more than that.
"Creativity goes beyond giving a performance or hanging a work of visual art," he said, giving the example that furniture manufacturer Hickory Chair is considered creative because it offers customized pieces of furniture to its customers.
The group broke into small groups to discuss the assets that the Institute for Emerging Issues had defined. Both groups felt that natural resources had been left out of the asset summary, as well as agriculture and equestrian events, education and the African-American and Native-American communities of both counties. It was also pointed out that both counties could do more to develop and grow the retirement community.
"This was a first step," said Lori Ivey, Stanly County Cooperative Extension director, who worked with Anson County Cooperative Extension director Janine Rywak to coordinate the event. "This will be an ongoing process."
A few smaller meetings will be held with a core group of individuals over the next few months, with another large meeting planned for April 14 at Dennis Vineyards in Stanly County.
For more information about Anson County's involvement in this effort, contact Janine Rywak at (704) 694-2915.