Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Art and Ethanol in Blissfield

Blissfield, known for farms and antique shops, is also home to two unlikely neighbors--Flatlanders Art Galleries and Great Lakes Ethanol.

I spoke with Flatlanders owner, Ken Thompson, about his work and his perspective on the Michigan economy. Thompson said he situated his operation in Blissfield because the real estate was so affordable. That was twenty eight years ago.

An artist and entrepreneur, Thompson runs several enterprises out of his Blissfield location. Midwest Sculpture Initiative works to "raise the visibility of Midwest sculptors nationally and internationally, promote cooperation among various art and civic organizations." Flatlanders Sculpture Services can custom fabricate, install and restore large sculptures. And there are the art galleries currently showing works of Jim Cogswell, Kevin Schroeder and Cathie Royer (Feb. 11-April 15).

When I asked Thompson for his thoughts on the Michigan economy, he said he would like to see a more favorable business climate and development of a more diverse range of businesses. He thinks Michigan needs to be more than cars and farms.

Yet, cars and farms are driving the economic development just southwest of the Flatlanders location. Great Lakes Ethanol, operated by Lakota, Iowa-based Midwest Grain Processors, is the second ethanol plant in the state. According the MGP website, the plant will produce 57 million gallons of ethanol annually. The website also states that, "All of the corn for the plant will be purchased in the local area. Demand from an ethanol plant typically increases local corn prices as much as 5 cents per bushel."

If Michigan is to diversify beyond cars and farms, Thompson suggests greater support for arts and artists. As he summarized, "Artists move where property values are cheap; they rejuvenate an area and then the galleries move in. After that come the restaurants. Then real estate values rise, which eventually prices out the artists who move on to other cheap rents." He recommended Richard Florida's work, The Rise of the Creative Class, for further reading on the influence of creatives on community and economic development.

Even though the ethanol plant bodes well for development in the Blissfield area, it still takes more than corn and cars to build a diverse and thriving community.