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Lessons from Detroit

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Fairfield County should be more like Detroit.

So say the pioneers behind the implementation of the Connecticut Creative Corridor (C3), part of a national grassroots effort that seeks to promote local art, advertising and marketing communities.

Led by the Fairfield County Communications Association, C3’s mission is to rebrand Fairfield County as a hotbed of creative talent to make it easier to attract top talent and clients.

Currently, it’s not uncommon for large Connecticut companies to outsource their marketing or advertising to firms to New York. C3 wants them to be looking in their backyards instead.

Local advertising and marketing professionals comprising the C3 initiative held a forum Oct. 22 at the Stamford Innovation Center to discuss ways the group could model itself and the Fairfield County region after its Detroit counterpart.

C3 hopes for advertising and marketing agencies within Fairfield County to work toward creating a town hall environment that would facilitate collaboration and create development and educational opportunities.

“It’s not all about big business and old money,” said Luke Scott, a C3 pioneer. “It’s about educating the next generation … and changing the freakin’ way.”

Since unveiling its strategic plan in June, C3 has been reaching out to its counterparts around the country, including one in Detroit, in hopes of sharing best practices within the industry.

The next steps for C3 include structuring its identity, finalizing its business plan, developing its web presence and kicking off fundraising efforts, said Scott, who also is the creative director at Westport-based Madison Mott Inc.

Bethany Betzler, associate director of the Detroit Creative Corridor Center and keynote speaker at the Oct. 22 forum, said the Detroit initiative aims to accelerate small business growth, attract larger firms, advance local talent and create a collaborative community.

“(It’s) a grassroots creative movement to bring Detroit back to the glory days,” Betzler said. Roughly 4,000 people are a part of the corridor initiative in Detroit.

Since launching, the group has established a creative ventures incubation program that offers new businesses mentoring opportunities and other resources, and has successfully convinced a major San Francisco-based creative agency to move its Troy, Mich. office to Detroit.

More than 10,000 people attended the Detroit Creative Corridor Center’s Detroit Design Festival in 2011, which attracted the attention of many national media outlets.

With the help of its efforts, the creative sector in Detroit added more than 200 jobs and eight new firms in 2011.

Betzler said the Detroit Creative Corridor Center sees the motor city as the center of creative innovation globally, but added that not everyone shares that view.

Detroit has “obvious” social problems such as high rates of homelessness, unemployment and crime. But, Betzler said, the creative community can play a vital role in the city’s revitalization by offering creative solutions that market the city in a more positive light and by spurring the creation of more jobs within the marketing and advertising industries.

“We can’t hide the fact there are problems,” Betzler said, saying she’s thankful for the strong art, design and music scenes.

Without the same social problems as Detroit and with its easy access to New York City, Betzler said she was jealous of Fairfield County.

Building off of the county’s strengths, Scott said it’s an exciting time to be in Connecticut.

“We’re writing our own story,” Scott said. “I think it’s a great opportunity.”

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