CAMDEN, Maine — If the enthusiasm and the crowds at the Juice 2.0 conference over the weekend were any indication, Maine’s creative economy is alive and well.
“We need creative people in our businesses to take the economy to the next level,” Skip Bates, chair of the Midcoast Magnet board, said Saturday evening at the Camden Opera House at the close of “Building Maine’s Innovation Networks.”
More than 800 people participated in some aspect of the event, which took place in several downtown Camden venues, Bates said. It included a “PechaKucha” Friday evening, in which artists, designers and other creative individuals shared 20 images, with 20 seconds for each image.
The Rockland-based networking organization comprises more than 500 graphic designers, architects, bankers, software programmers, dancers, musicians and engineers.
Juice 1.0, “Powering the Creative Economy,” took place in 2007.
The intervening two years have included a painful global recession, but Bates and other organizers and attendees believe that taking an innovative approach to traditional businesses and encouraging new creative endeavors are integral to the future of Maine.
Presenters at Juice included everyone from potters to politicians, from fishermen to digital media pioneers and from economists to entrepreneurs. Over the course of the weekend, communities shared their experiences in downtown revitalization, and the event wrapped up Saturday evening with bankers being encouraged to let their hair down with the help of the nationally known Liz Lerman Dance Exchange.
For graphic designer Monique Bouchard, of Old Town, Juice was an eye-opener.
“When you’re working, it’s like you’re walking and you’re always looking down, because you’re getting it done,” she said. “Something like this makes you stop and look up. It’s amazing, what I’ve seen when I looked up.”
Susan MacKay, president of clean technology start-up Zeomatrix in Orono, said she relished the chance to practice her “elevator pitch,” a five-minute presentation about her company, aimed at possible investors.
“The problem: Production of biofuels is too expensive,” she said in the Maine Clean and Green Technologies break-out session. “The solution: Reduce biofuels production costs.”
It was an easy entry to a scientific spiel about Zeomatrix’s “nano-filtration membrane,” which works to separate biofuel from biomass on a microscopic scale, she said.
The break-out session was moderated by Jake Ward, assistant vice president of research, economic development and government affairs at the University of Maine. He said there are about 1,000 clean-tech related companies in Maine, covering everything from research and development in renewable power to the creation of “green chemistry polymers” like those at Zeomatrix.
The creative economy is a “huge opportunity” for Maine, Ward said.
“In many ways, Maine was the original creative economy,” he said, citing the traditions for hard work and innovation.
“You may not have high per-capita income, but there are many opportunities in this state for people to carve their own niche,” Ward said. “I think of the creative economy as basically an individual’s opportunity to create their own destiny.”