“Developing the Creative Economy
For many communities similar to Alton, fostering small business growth has been the key to transitioning from a formerly manufacturing-based economy. Creative enterprises create jobs, improve quality of life, and are an important complement to community development activities. Such shops and services attract other young professionals and tourists to our area. Often, larger companies make decisions about where to locate their businesses based on the availability of a creative workforce, as well as the quality of life that a town rich in the arts offers to its employees. The Downtown Alton district has long been a hub for many classic creative enterprises, such as visual arts and media, but attendees of the workshop were encouraged to broaden their horizons on what fields are considered creative, to include industries such as: architecture, crafts, culinary, cultural, design, fashion, film, publishing, software development and technology.
Kicking off the workshop from 3:00-5:00 p.m., Pam Schallhorn, Community Economic Development Educator from University of Illinois Extension, gave a presentation called “Developing A Creative Economy”. Attendees learned how residents, business and property owners, civic organizations, and city officials can create an environment where these types of businesses will choose to open their doors.
From 5:00-6:00 p.m., the audience enjoyed a live "Shark Tank" style session, where creative entrepreneurs delivered 2-minute pitches on the current state of their business, project, or idea and received rapid-fire feedback from a panel of experts. The workshop included appetizers from many local food purveyors.
Finally, from 6:00-8:00 p.m., a “Creative Entrepreneur Cocktail Expo” was held in the main gallery, which was free and open to the public. During the party, creatives browsed informational tables from many organizations, businesses and individuals who offered support to fledgling creative entrepreneurs. They were also able to learn about available real estate, find opportunities to sell their wares, and land contract employment. The event was a supportive atmosphere to network with successful business mentors, financial lenders and media.
“At the event, a jewelry maker will find outlets to consign her work, someone considering an endeavor in the culinary arts can learn about markets for his products, and local performance artists will receive contact info for Downtown venues who are looking to hire their services,” said Sara McGibany, Executive Director of Alton Main Street, “The goal is to provide resources and information. I’ve been involved with many circumstances where a creative entrepreneur is great at their trade, but just needed a little support on their weaker spots in regards to business. Sometimes giving a small business owner advice on where to turn for marketing, financial or real estate help enables them to really flourish.”
The Alton Main Street organization and its partners are available to help small entrepreneurs navigate any obstacles they face in order to take their business to the next level. Developers attended the workshop to learn about investment opportunities in Downtown Alton’s historic district and become acquainted with Alton’s growing creative culture.