by Joey Phoenix

Community Building in the creative economy isn’t just the work of artists or politicians or creative-centered businesses. It’s the work of everyone. 

In fact, a community flourishes when everyone in it supports new and local because growth breeds growth and opportunity encourages opportunity. Not only that, supporting the creative economy means that there is just more happening in a space, making it vastly more appealing to new employees and residents. 

It makes it a better place to live, work, and play. 

Ryan Heidorn is the Managing Partner of Steel Root, a Salem, MA-based full-service IT firm that specializes in security and compliance. They work with all different types of small businesses from health care and financial to tech and startups. 

He was in business school at Endicott College in 2011 when he and Steel Root’s other Managing Partner Scott Freedson started kicking around the idea of starting a cybersecurity services company for small businesses, an idea they would get off the ground in 2015. 

Ryan is a true believer in developing the creative economy and has been from the beginning. For him, it’s two-fold: not only should a company working in the creative economy support the culture of the surrounding community, but it also needs to have a strong work culture for it to thrive. The two are inherently linked, and a lot of that has to do with leadership. 

“Security goes hand in hand with culture from the top down at every level,” Ryan explains. “We always tell folks, and I guess it’s a bit of cliché, change has to start at the top. Security is no exception to that. If it’s important for a business to be secure, to protect their customers and their own data, that really looks like leadership taking it seriously.”

Leadership isn’t only directly responsible for shaping the inner-work culture of a business, but they’re also responsible for how involved they are in the community, and what message that involvement demonstrates. Not only that, new employees find it incredibly attractive to work for a company that is both a part of a growing and changing community and that is responsible for creating opportunities for employees to play in the same city where they work. 

For example, Steel Root was a venue sponsor for the 2019 Salem Arts Festival, providing opportunities for artists and performers to do the kind of work they love doing. Events like the Salem Arts Festival wouldn’t be possible without support from its sponsors, and because of these efforts, every artist and performer at the festival gets paid. Which, surprisingly, isn’t something that happens all that often at the community level. 

“I think that there’s this outdated marketing model that most businesses have that really discounts being part of a creative community,” Ryan says. “While there might not be a real clear return on investment for a firm to sponsor a stage or something like that an arts festival – if you dig a bit deeper, there absolutely is.

“From a branding perspective, it’s important to associate your company with types of values like art and creativity and being part of a local community because it appeals to people widely – especially to Millennials and younger generations,” he adds. 

Image by Creative Collective

There is a myth about business and entrepreneurship in cities where the value a company brings to the community is entirely centered around the services that it provides. This is only a partial truth. 

A business that stands alone and does great work without engaging the community is one that won’t flourish the same way as one that properly integrates into the city where its employees live and work. It not only makes the people in the community want to work with you, but it also draws new people in to make them want to work for you. 

In an economy where the turnover rate is high with most companies, having this edge can keep employees happier longer and make them proud to be a part of what your company is doing. 

“Entrepreneurs coming up today are often fed this myth that you’ve got to build something that will scale infinitely, and you’re going to have some big exit, which I disagree with on a number of levels,” Ryan describes. “That’s not a community-building business.”

“I’m much more interested in a business that is involved in the local community or places where it’s based. New entrepreneurs should focus on delivering some real value to people in the community because that, in turn, will bring real value to your business.” 

The creative economy is a living, breathing ecosystem that requires everyone to play a part. Being a creative-minded business doesn’t mean that your services need to be creative for you to make a difference. The community needs IT services and healthcare and financial services just as much as it needs theatre, music, and art. 

Each sector of the creative economy needs the other to thrive, and when everyone in the community does their part to support and help each other grow, the community as a whole can flourish. 


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Joey Phoenix is a performance artist and the Managing Editor of Creative North Shore. Follow them on Twitter @jphoenixmedia. If you have an idea for a story, feature, or pictures of adorable llamas, feel free to send them a message at joeyphoenix@creativecollectivema.com


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