“Not Your Father’s Route 128”: Jason Schupbach Promotes Massachusetts’ Creative Economy

In his 2006 run for the Massachusetts governor’s office, Deval Patrick campaigned on the need to make the most of the state’s “creative economy,” meaning industries such as advertising, architecture, design, digital media, film, gaming, marketing, music, publishing, tourism, and the arts. It’s a sector that employs at least 100,000 people in the state, and that has long been one of the Boston area’s strengths. But Patrick’s point was that putting even more emphasis on these industries, through public and private investment, could help to counteract declines in other fields such as manufacturing, bring in more high-paying jobs, and maybe even make life more interesting.

Well, the recession that set in shortly after Patrick took office and the state government’s resulting financial woes have pretty much ruled out significant new public spending on creative-economy programs. There’s even a movement to roll back the state’s one major economic initiative in the arts, the costly film tax credit enacted under Governor Mitt Romney in 2005 and expanded under Patrick in 2007. But Patrick has made good on his campaign promise in other ways, notably by launching a new Creative Economy Council to identify the biggest needs in the creative sectors and appointing a full-time “creative economy industry director” within the Massachusetts Office of Business Development to work directly with companies in these sectors.

The man who fills those shoes—and, so far as Xconomy can tell, the only person in any U.S. state agency explicitly tasked with helping local creative industries—is 33-year-old Jason Schupbach. While peers at the MOBD cover areas such as life sciences and defense, Schupbach’s primary job is to help for-profit businesses in the creative sector find the resources they need to grow in the state. (The MOBD is part of the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development; last month we published an extensive two-part interview with Greg Bialecki, who heads that office.) Schupbach is also pinch-hitting right now as acting technology industry director while that title’s usual holder, Tito Jackson, is on leave to run for an at-large seat on the Boston City Council.

Schupbach seems omnipresent in the entrepreneurship community lately. If you’ve been to recent events such as the TechStars Investor Evening on September 11, the Tech Tuesday game-industry meetup on September 15, or the MassTLC gaming panel at the UK Consulate on September 24, you’ve probably run into him or seen him speak. His oft-repeated refrain at these events is that the Patrick Administration cares about the state’s innovators, and is ready to promote their work in any way it can. One recent mark of that recognition was Patrick’s proclamation of September 9, 2009 (the day Harmonix Music released Beatles: Rock Band) as “Video Game Innovation Day”; Schupbach showed off the signed, leather-bound proclamation at several local meetups.

A 2003 graduate of MIT’s Master in City Planning program, Schupbach studied under the late J. Mark Schuster, a well-known proponent for cultural policies in urban planning. “I was really interested in how the arts and culture and creative fields fit into the design of a city,” Schupbach told me in an interview late last month. “I wanted to be a city designer, but I wasn’t very good at the design part, so I ended up writing my thesis about the trend of cities trying to bring artists into their downtowns.” He won the best thesis award—and went on to do exactly what he had written about, working for New York City’s Department of Cultural Affairs and then for the Ford Foundation’s Artist Link project, which promotes affordable urban housing for artists.

In our interview, snippets of which are highlighted below, I asked Schupbach to describe his more recent role at MOBD and to talk about the office’s biggest creative-economy initiatives. While the state’s revenue crunch means that his job is largely about directing businesses to existing resources, along with a good measure of cheerleading, Schupbach says a recession is actually a good time to think and plan (that’s one of the roles of the Creative Economy Council, which he coordinates). “The state budget will come back. Things are cyclical,” Schupbach says. “This is the time to plan and write law for when there is money around.”

On the state’s new focus on retaining local innovators:

We are never going to be the state that pays a zillion dollars to move Boeing here. We don’t have oil money like Louisiana. What we have is an enormous amount of talent that’s here already, and we have to figure out the best way to get them to stay here so that we’ll have the next billion-dollar company here. That’s why you see us trying to … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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5 responses to ““Not Your Father’s Route 128”: Jason Schupbach Promotes Massachusetts’ Creative Economy”

  1. I am glad there is actual organized and concerted effort to “re-start” the tech startup environment in Boston/RT 128 area – we need it.
    The good news is (as I learned at the MTLC unConference last week) that we have plenty of pretty good startups around in MA.

    -Stas Antons
    SmartSymbols Interactive Technology

  2. Being an industrial designer, I love Jason’s focus on this area of the creative economy. How many people know that one of the largest and most successful design firms in the world is in Boston? Continuum’s main office is right on the Mass Pike in Newton (they have a slick silver sign visible from the highway on the side of their brick loft building). Since its 1984 founding, Continuum has also spawned many successful offspring in the product development and design strategy consulting spaces. (Manta, Altitude, and ELEVEN come to mind quickly.) (Full disclosure: I worked there for five years when we were still tadpoles.)

    And yes Wade, Jason does seem to get around. I met Jason last week at the MTLC UnConference and he impressed me with his energy and vision. I am wishing him well and willing to help him succeed in this role in any way I can.