The most exciting accomplishment I’ve achieved in my career to date was to discover the economic potential of Prince Edward County. What I realized early on was that if Prince Edward County was going to be a successful and growing economy it had to be the best Prince Edward County it could be. It needed to build on its strengths and not try to mimic some “other” community that it could not be. As my economic development journey unfolded I discovered that Prince Edward County was a wonderful, brilliant Creative Rural Economy. The timing for this couldn’t be better because the Industrial Age was in decline and the Creative Class was on the rise. I was so fortunate to be in the right place at the right time and to see my economic development career and Prince Edward County’s economic fortunes rise simultaneously.
The Creative Economy is measured by Creative Occupations or the Creative Class, people who are paid to think. My favourite story on the history of the economy is from Eva Klein. Years ago I sat in on a presentation that she gave that was so simple it was brilliant. Basically she said since the dawn of civilization there have been three waves of economic drivers or wealth creation. For the first 10,000 years of civilization most jobs and wealth creation was tied to the Agrarian Age and related agricultural outputs. Over the last 200 years or so The Industrial Age was the dominant economic driver. Today we are in the Creative Age where knowledge, innovation, information and creativity drives today’s wealth creation and job growth.
I think it’s really important to understand if one is going to build an economy one needs to appreciate where the economic forces are and where one’s economy is positioned. I believe this perspective creates opportunities for leverage. In the western hemisphere and beyond the economic forces are no longer being driven by agriculture or industry but rather by the new creative and innovation economy. As mentioned in the previous chapter and to my surprise, in Prince Edward County this was not a well accepted or possibly understood principle, far from it. Conversely, a decade later when I moved to Peterborough to my delight I discovered there is not resistance to this notion but open minds and a healthy level of understanding. Perhaps this is because it is a community with an industrial history, one that thrived during the peak of the industrial age and one that has suffered with the transition to the creative age. It is important to note when focusing on the development of a Creative Economy, this does not mean one ignores the previous two drivers, merely one puts them in context and acts accordingly. In many ways the creative economy can help regenerate agriculture and industry.
When I started my career in Economic Development I recognized that the opportunity for Prince Edward County was to develop it’s creative economy. Prince Edward County was still very much an agricultural economy. It also has some strong tourism assets. Although I was not schooled in the Creative Economy language or theory when I started in early 2001 but I did have four basic contextual factors I was dealing with that informed that direction.
First, the industrial age had by-passed Prince Edward County and was virtually non-existent in the local economy. The industrial age was gearing down in North America and had moved to Asia and Mexico. We had no infrastructure, human or other capital resources to support an industrial business case, therefore I did not see that direction as an opportunity. In other words Prince Edward County missed out on the 150 plus year run of the golden area of the Industrial Age, it was never in the game, it had missed the boat. Enough people to make a difference thought they still had a shot but that boat had long sailed past the island paradise on The Bay of Quinte and Lake Ontario. As George Schriver of WCM Consulting used to say to me, wishful thinking can not change the reality of the day. WCM prepared our 2004 Strategic Plan that helped articulate our Creative Economy direction.
Secondly, Prince Edward County was in many ways still in the Agriculture Age, primarily tied to commodities. While there were added value outputs this was an underdeveloped part of the economy. Everything that I learned in marketing and that I knew about business told me that if agriculture was going to succeed it needed to move beyond commodities and add value. It is interesting to note that Prince Edward County’s three previous waves of prosperity were all tied to value added agriculture and little did we know it’s fourth wave which was coming was not going to be any different albeit with a creative twist.
Clearly we were in the age of the knowledge worker or what I was referring to at the time as a mobile worker, somebody who could work almost anywhere and serve clients globally, especially with the arrival of the Internet. This was a target I believed could work well for Prince Edward County.
Finally and intuitively I understood that Prince Edward County’s embarrassment of under appreciated cultural, heritage and artistic assets were of significant and leverageable economic value. I later learned that this was a big part of our “Quality of Place” and primary competitive advantage to retain and attract the Creative Class and build our Creative Rural Economy.
While I was sorting through these issues and building my focus to bring economic success and prosperity to my new community others were well on their way to articulating and defining the creative economy. As I mentioned earlier, Eva Klein brought some wonderful economic history of the world perspective for me. Clearly Peter Drucker and others had laid some of the groundwork with respect to post industrial work. John Howkins, author of the 2001 publication entitled The Creative Economy echoed the U.K. and European definition of creative economy at the time which was creative industries based. That definition pegs the creative economy at about 5% of the labour force in the western hemisphere.
Richard Florida’s book The Creative Class built on Drucker’s notion of knowledge workers and went much further than John Howkins and defined the Creative Economy as people who are paid to think. This definition makes up about 30-35% of the labour force, far beyond the creative industries 5% . As I started to wrap my head around these primarily urban based ideas I came to the conclusion that the “new economy” was the Creative Economy and the creative economy was Prince Edward County’s opportunity to leap frog the Industrial Age, which had passed it by from the Agricultural Age, to the Creative Age. It occurred to me that these need not be exclusively urban principles and I asked the question to myself why not rural?
I thought we should use a streamlined definition tied to place and geography, thus the terminology Creative Rural Economy was used to define my work and Prince Edward County’s Economy. Simultaneously and subsequently other small town and rural communities were on a similar discovery.
This is my chapter 1 teaser, just a sample of how I expect the chapter to unfold. I’m crowd-sourcing feedback. Think of this as a working draft, there will be better formatting and editing when the finished product is complete . If you have any thoughts along the way on how to enhance the story and care to share them with me I would genuinely appreciate that. I’m going to tweet this with a #CreativeEconomy and see what happens. Thanks for your interest.
Brief Background & Bio
As economic development officer, I pioneered the practice of Creative Rural Economy, Economic Development in Prince Edward County, Ontario for a decade starting in 2001. Now as the President and CEO of the Greater Peterborough Economic Development Commission and the Greater Peterborough Innovation Cluster my role has expanded to include both urban and rural creative economy work. I have a keen interest in the economics of urban-rural interdependency. I also speak regularly to groups, organizations and conferences in order to help them grow their economies. I’ve spoken across Canada in the U.S., Europe and Asia.
Want to Hear More?
I enjoy sharing my knowledge and expertise to help others on developing Creative Economies – Rural, Small Town & Big City too. To book me for speaking engagements, facilitation, workshops and more click here or email here.