Creative economy is growing, especially in Houlton

4 years ago

CARIBOU, MaineNorthern Maine Development Commission has historically worked to get larger businesses and institutions to Aroostook County, such as manufacturing firms, universities and upscale restaurants.

While those efforts continue, Robert Clark, executive director of NMDC, said during a recent interview that a push to urge small businesses that contribute to the growing creative economy is just as important.

“We are continuing to see growth in small businesses like microbreweries, daycares, artists and crafters,” he said. “They are small, but they are really contributing to the economy of the area. That is a great thing for us.”

Clark said that NMDC has a Creative Economy Business Assistance Center program, which seeks to provide resources specifically focused on creative economy businesses in the Aroostook County Empowerment Zone.

The program provides direct assistance to entrepreneurial businesses in the region by offering training and information that will give them tools to make their businesses more stable, more efficient and more marketable.

The business assistance services will help clients identify local materials and resources that can be used to expand or start their businesses. 

“We have definitely seen quite an uptick this year in the creative economy, particularly in Houlton,” he said. “ Over the past 18 months, we worked with 228 clients in southern Aroostook. Seventeen of those clients received funding of $1.2 million to assist their business efforts.”

Clark said that a lot of the uptick in the creative economy has to do with the way the overall economy is now.

“The economy is much better than it used to be,” he said. “There is more opportunity out there for entrepreneurs, more money out there for them. Social media is a fast, inexpensive way for them to advertise their services.”

According to Clark, the greatest increase has been in the daycare sector.

“People start small, with six children, and they grow slowly,” he said. “It is a nice little home business to have. But we are also seeing that anything having to do with technology or web design is starting to grow pretty quickly.”

He also said there is a lot of talent and opportunity in The County.

“We have great broadband here, so anything that people make on their computers, they can quickly send to anywhere in the world,” he said. “They can conduct meetings via computer with anywhere in the world. More people want to work for themselves, so now that is possible … from their own home offices. The possibilities are endless.”