I am a twenty-something with my eye on Muskoka. This is my home and, although my schooling has taken me across the country, I am constantly drawn back to its natural beauty, charismatic community and its lifestyle. But something is changing and I want to be a part of it. They call it the creative economy and like others, I am trying to understand what it means.

Why does the creative economy interest me at all? Because my expectations are high. I am educated, ambitious and hungry for opportunities that will grow my talents and my experience. I am looking for a great job that will make use of my talents and will reward me in return. I love Muskoka and want to build a career that will allow me to contribute to my home town. Occupations related to arts and culture are very much a part of the new creative economy, and cultural activities contribute to a quality of life that acts like a magnet in attracting creative workers. But by definition, creative occupations are much broader. Creative workers are knowledge workers whose jobs involve idea generation, innovation, decision-making and responsibility.

The creative economy is taking many forms in Muskoka. I mention a sampling.

On the culinary front, The Griffin Gastropub is a niche establishment that is capitalizing on consumer's interest in combining quality food, cozy atmosphere and a focus on all that is local and micro. Two young Griffin entrepreneurs are bringing the flavours of the world to their patrons along with over 50 different beers made exclusively by Ontario Breweries. Muskoka Cottage Brewery and Lake of Bays Brewery, two other local creative industries, are included on the menu. Good luck finding a seat! Savour Muskoka is a clever collective of food businesses that is developing the Muskoka region as a dynamic culinary tourism destination by supporting establishments like the Griffin.

What about the many environmentalists who are operating consulting and research services from Muskoka. They are also a part of the creative economy. For example, Hutchinson Environmental Sciences Ltd. is a new Muskoka company that is using local scientists and technicians to undertake Canada-wide projects related to aquatic science. New technologies allow Muskoka-based operations to serve clients around the globe.

Muskoka is also becoming an eduation centre. Georgian College, Nipissing University and now Waterloo University are bringing formal learning opportunities to the area. Specialized programs promise to attract learners from around the world, and bring teaching professionals to Muskoka as well. Having the chance to experience Muskoka may entice some people into relocating and moving their businesses and jobs here to enjoy our quality of life on a permanent basis.

And yes... I am proud of my community. I am passionate about being a part of Muskoka's future and I am committed to doing what it takes to prosper here at home by becoming a part of this new, creative economy.

Dana Clark
I just participated in an interesting e-conference hosted by the Canadian Rural Development Network. The presenter was David McGranahan with the Economic Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture. His presentation was entitled, The Rural Growth Trifecta: Outdoor Amenities, Creative Class and the Entrepreneurial Context. He put in simple terms what we in Muskoka know, that is, the Creative Economy is largely an urban phenomenon EXCEPT for those rural areas offering exceptional outdoor amenities that attract footloose creative workers. Why else would so many interesting and accomplished people choose to cottage, live, work and retire in Muskoka. McGranahan makes an easy link to the two other factors that when combined lead to economic development. Attracting creative workers brings new ideas and talent to the area. And because of the value creative workers place on quality of the local environment, they generally favour 'green' development. Without new ideas we get more of the same. As this researcher says -- without the flow of new ideas we get more shoe stores and hair dressers. We need this flow of new ideas. The final crucial element is entrepreneurship. Bottom line is -- natural amenities attract creative workers. Creative workers provide new ideas, skills and energy. Entrepreneurs take new ideas and integrate them into the local economy. That is the trifecta ... interesting!

Mary Robertson Lacroix
Richard Florida has developed a creative occupations classification and it's pretty broad. We've just gotten the breakdown for Muskoka. It seems that occupations can be a part of almost any field of work -- including but certainly not exclusive to the arts. It is the nature of the job that is the distinguishing factor. Those jobs that require workers to use their minds to create products, solutions, services, make decisions and guide or supervise others make their way into the creative category. The freedom to offer ideas that could lead to change and innovation is the other key difference. 

It strikes me that there is an important entrepreneurial aspect to all of this. If you work for a large establishment the rules are usually pretty clear in terms of what you can and can't do without the authorization of a superior. Work can be more routinized that way. If for instance you serve coffee at Tim Hortons, or greet shoppers for Walmart, you basically know the drill. There isn't a lot of room for creativity. But -- in smaller operations with less beureaucratic organization, there is more room for individuals to use their creativity to innovate in a way that will benefit the business or organization for whom they work. Muskoka, like most other rural areas, has an economy based in small and medium-sized enterprise. We thus have lots of opportunity to promote creativity in the workplace. Maybe we should all be like Google -- and mandate 20% of staff time for pure creativity -- exploring new ideas. 

Let's do what we can to turn Muskoka into the most creative community in Canada.

Mary Robertson Lacroix
The Creative Economy is a term that is becoming more and more popular in my daily life. Watching my colleagues discuss their ideas, and witnessing their passion for the future economy of Muskoka is more than simply inspiring; It’s making me think, focus, and dream of what could be accomplished given positive support and resources. I can already see the Creative Economy emerging with entrepreneurs, artists, designers, architects, green living, and an array of bright, new ideas and careers, and Muskoka is certainly a fantastic place to foster those innovative ideas and creations. Finding out what is needed to help create “New economy jobs” is one of the first things on the Creative Muskoka list, and it will start with a data presentation next week on “Identifying Creative Workers in Muskoka” presented by OMAFRA.
During a meeting last week, we focused on the Key Messages for Creative Muskoka. Here’s what we believe:
We must support the jobs of tomorrow to ensure a prosperous future for Muskoka- and make Muskoka the “Cultural Capital of Ontario”.