One kind of economic development overlooked

04 Apr One kind of economic development overlooked

I was delighted to see Chairman Gerald Dawson’s Governmental Committee of Beaufort County Council vote unanimously to support the Beaufort County Economic Development Corporation’s vision and mission statements, work plan and budget.  Very refreshing to see a once fractured, relative to economic development, county council come together with the four Mayors and/or their appointees to the Commission. Next step will be County Council’s Finance Committee and then the full County Council.  Let’s hope and urge them to stick together to give the initiative a chance.  If there is one missing in this wonderful lowcountry county it is better jobs for the people who grow up and would like to live in their hometowns.

As we think of economic development we often think of manufacturing smokestacks, we think of tourism, we think about the importance of the military and the service industries that serve them. We think about better education. We talk about attracting new businesses and we talk about growing businesses.

At a conference in Charleston last week, it dawned upon me that we have overlooked a kind of economic development that is before our eyes yet not seen by many as “businesses.”  I am thinking about artisans with special talents to make things that can be sold not just alongside the road, at craft shows or vendor tents at festivals.

The conference was convened by a non-profit organization called “Nest” and Bloomberg Philanthropies.  Its purpose was to bring together artisans — recommended  by the Mayors of Memphis, Jackson, Birmingham, Charleston, Columbia and Beaufort — to discuss how to grow these small home enterprises into viable businesses, how to recruit people to make things at home and how to find more large and more profitable markets for home grown designer clothing, quilts, jewelry, crafts, unique foods and more.

The Beaufort team included four artisans: one who designs bow ties and socks manufacturers by home-bound women and some in China that are sold on-line and through some retailers; another who designs fashion garments for men and women and needs local sewers and weavers to produce the quantity required to support a market; another makes jewelry and would like to design for others to produce in sufficient quantities to market; and the final makes fabulous jewelry she would like to teach others to make and eventually manufacture.

While I am not sure what the outcome of the report on the gathering will recommend, I do know that my eyes were opened to the difference between an artist and an artisan and the fact that artisans should be receiving the same kind of support government and non profits provide to other small businesses.

I am working on a plan.