West Points

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Artisans As An Economic Force

It is not unusual for rural American communities to be defined by artisan activity - think Taos, New Mexico or Saugatuck, Michigan or Berea, Kentucky. For goodness sake, think Mendocino County, California. Fine artists and crafters along with performing artists abound here. 

We can wonder why....maybe it's because of the rich heritage and inspirational beauty of the place. Maybe it's because artists want room to move and breathe and see the sunset and the moonrise and a sky full of stars - we've got that. Maybe it's because there aren't that many jobs here. Indeed, many Mendocino County artists are intent on making a living or at least adding to family income through their arts.

So, it has been interesting to read a research report from the Institute for the Future that describes the re-emergence of artisans as an economic force in America www.intuit.com/futureofsmallbusiness. An introduction to the report can be found in the June edition of Rural Matters in the newsletter section of this website.

Once again, Mendocino County is ahead of the headlines and will certainly be a key player in a 21st Century partnership of the arts and economic activitiy. The report cites the rapid growth of small and personal (one person) businesses and imagines that artisans will create new organizational structures that provide greater opportunities for work-life balance.

The relevance to Mendocino County artisans continues with the recognition that small businesses, because of their size and agility, are well positioned to serve niche markets - those highly targeted, customized products that artisans create for customers with specific requirements. There are indicators that small business and large corporations will colloborate more in areas such as sales, marketing and innovation. Indeed, this level of activity will continue to grow as big business, yes, even corporations, look outside for help with innovation.

The juxtaposition of this thinking with the naming of Niche Manufacturing as one of the six industrial Targets of Opportunity on the North Coast - those industries that show the most promise for job and firm growth, wage increases, regional competitiveness and career potential - deserves further discusssion. This looks like real economic opportunity from a base that we already have - the artisan base. Further thoughts are welcome.

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