Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Creative Industries – Creative Products…an Un-Milked Cash Cow

Printed in the St. Lucia Voice Newspaper, Saturday 1st December: First in a series that I'll be writing in a push to gat development of this sector.
Let me start by saying, I am daily confounded by the lack of attention paid to this sector’s potential for our Nation, even in the recently launched ‘Creative Industries’ Department…where were the creative products?  Our collective heads seem buried deep in our lovely sandy beaches!

I am passionate about this sector:  I live it – as an artisan and as a consultant in this sector. I suffer, along with many others, unnecessarily low income because of the ridiculous challenges that face us here in St. Lucia, NOT because I am happy being a ‘starving artist’- I and pretty much everyone else I know are not happy under-earning.  I persevere because I know very well what the potential is AND I know what’s needed to develop it; I give countless hours of time (as do many others) to voluntarily advising government departments and visiting highly-paid Consultants and to co-ordinating activities…but we seem to have gotten pretty much nowhere over the years; same old, same old place!
Island Effect Beached Treasures Collection - handmade St. Lucian Clay bowl by FinolaPrescott
So in the hope of getting public, private and government support to the level of excitement that it should be at, I am committing some of my time to writing a few articles on this to share a bit about the diversity and importance of this hugely under-recognized under-developed sector– I hope you’ll come back and read more in the coming weeks also.

What is this Sector all about?

The terms ‘handicraft’ and ‘souvenirs’ are the most commonly used words when you hear people talking about our ‘creative products’ here in St. Lucia, but they both give an entirely misleading concept of what ‘creative products’ really are!

Think ‘Fashion’, think ’Décor’, think ‘Designer Lifestyles’, think ‘Gourmet’ think ‘Multi-Million Dollar Industry’ …ok, now you’re more on the right track!
Alcina Nolley's silver Pitons Pendant -
Ok, I’m suspecting the last one – ‘Multi-Million Dollar Industry’ got your attention the most, and, due respect, that’s the most important one for all the decision makers when it comes to deciding where to put money for development, concessions, education, etc - so let’s take a look at that:
We have a tiny population here in St. Lucia with perhaps 75-100,000 spending individuals…BUT… we have about 250,000 – 350,000 stay-over visitors and another 500,000-700,000 cruise visitors per year… let’s say 1,000,000 persons on average, so, yes, visitor spending is a big area of potential for us, though thinking only of ‘souvenirs’ is super-limited in scope, visitors shop for much more that could be locally made, but for now, let’s just look at $$$$$...consider the following:

What if each visitor to St. Lucia spends just EC$10 on buying a locally produced creative product; that equals, EC$10,000,000 PER YEAR in income that originates outside of St. Lucia and stays largely in St. Lucia and circulates in our economy – EC$10,000,000 in EXPORT SALES.

Now let’s be more realistic

We can easily expect every visitor on average to spend US$10 when they stop on our shores – that is US$10,000,000 or EC$26,700,000 in ‘export sales income’. Getting that figure out of visitors is easy: But I firmly believe we can get 2,3,5 times that from many of our visitors and higher even from a smaller number, so we can look at a sector that brings in US$15 – 25,000,000 easy.

Explain to me again why we are not rushing to develop this sector?

There are many challenges facing this sector – competition from cheap imports being THE most difficult for us right now – and that brings into focus, lack of workable incentives for the sector: the current fiscal incentives arrangements are too cumbersome and costly for the current micro-level at which this sector operates; lack of any facilities suitable (affordable and well-located) for shops that sell Authentic local products and / or work as artisan workshops;  turning a blind eye to the fraudulent practice of passing off imported goods as locally products  - ‘hematite’ necklaces, touted as made from volcanic stones from Soufriere when they’re really iron filings in resin made in China, blatantly obvious ‘Peruvian’ style woven products with St. Lucia and the Pitons nicely embroidered on them, Carvings from Guyana, Paintings from Dominican Republic and Haiti, Sarongs from Indonesia…the list goes on and on.

Despite all these challenges, it is undeniable that this sector has huge potential for income earning – and, there are many things that could be put in place without great investment, cost or expenditure, that would go a good way towards improving the climate for doing business. 

I’ll leave it there for this week, please read again next week and leave your comments, ask questions, get involved!