Economy shifting to artisan businesses

Chris Farrell, left, answers questions at the fall R.E.I.F. breakfast. At right is Bruce Thompson, executive vice president (community bank president) of National Bank of Commerce, R.E.I.F. primary sponsor.

The Twin Ports’ economy is gradually shifting to artisan-owned companies, Minnesota Public Radio economics commentator Chris Farrell said at the fall Regional Economics Indicators Forum.

“Craft businesses are making a large impact on your economy. They are the new middle class jobs of the future. They will provide both a purpose and a paycheck,” said Farrell, who gave the keynote address at the twice-a-year business breakfast.

Meanwhile, strong links to global trade, primarily through commodities shipped through the port, remain in place.

“That’s nothing new, but the artisan economy is new,” he said, noting that much of the new business is tied to craft beer, food and specialty products.

Much of the new commerce, he added, is coming from an unexpected source: GenXers who go into business with their parents. He said it’s a growing trend. And despite beliefs to the contrary, Farrell noted that older people are very likely to become first-time entrepreneurs.

“It’s not just about folks with long hair and tattoos. A lot of the artisans have grey hair,” Farrell said.

It’s also not just about the Twin Ports. The trend is very evident in Ashland and Bayfield, where a recent study found the creative community has enhanced the Chequamegon Bay brand.

“Take it all together and you have a growing creative economy ecosystem. It’s going to grow because this region has a history of such activity. The opportunity is there and the opportunity can be seized,” Farrell said.

But the United States has far too many rules and regulations that hinder startups, he explained – ranking 65th in the world – which needs to change. Farrell also noted that the GOP tax bill bolstered considerable consumer spending, but not business investment. Unfortunately, that means the housing shortage isn’t being addressed by new construction.

“That has been disappointing so far,” he said.