A newly published report is building a plan for the future of northern Maine’s St. John Valley. It’s based upon the area’s potential to build a creative economy.  “The Valley,” as locals call their region, is home to a diversity of cultures including the French-Acadians, the Quebecois Franco-Americans, Scots-Irish and English. The descendants of the French-Canadians who settled The Valley retain French as their primary language.

“St. John Valley Creative Economy Project – Strengthening Our Communities and Economy Through Culture and Place” describes The Valley as a distinct region with special attributes.  The report was sponsored by the Margaret Chase Smith Center Policy Center at the University of Maine. It projects an optimistic economic outlook for rural St. John Valley and the surrounding Aroostook County.

Although The Valley’s strong agricultural tradition remains a resource, other features include the special history of the area influenced by the international border shared with Canada.

Important to the sustainability of the area’s economy will be the leadership development programs called for in the report to attract and retain young people, who often leave to find jobs in southern Maine.

Sheila Jans is a cultural development specialist and a resident of the St. John Valley.  She developed “Voici the Valley Cultureway,” an audio documentary with an accompanying guidebook about touring the St. John Valley.  Jans co-authored the creative economy report after two years of facilitating focus groups, surveys, interviews and general research.  “We did a lot of listening to our people,” says Jans.

The report brings together the special history, the French language, the international border with Canada and the home-grown cultures of The Valley. They are all necessary resources for building renewable and sustainable economic appeal.  “This collaborative effort has never been done in The Valley,” says Jans.

Just what is a creative economy?  “A creative economy recognizes how the arts and culture contribute to jobs and economic development,” says Jans  “Our work focused on how to help innovative and creative individuals who will create a prosperous and entrepreneurial rural economy,” she says.

The Valley is a picturesque region, dotted with a series of close knit communities located close to the free flowing St. John River.  Each town is impacted by the international history and the culture they each share with Canada.  Many families are separated by the international border between Maine and New Brunswick.  Despite the connectedness of the Maine and Canadian communities, the economic development of the region has not prospered as result.

“Growth of the region along the international border is linear, not circular,” writes Jans.  Challenges to regional growth include the technicalities of cross border trade and the differences in the value between the US and Canadian currencies.

Nonetheless, cross cultural cooperation is a feature of the planned 2014 Congress Mondial Acadien or World Acadian Congress, which will be hosted on both sides of the Canadian border.  Plans for the Congress call for attracting 20,000-50,000 people to Northern Aroostook County, New Brunswick and Quebec. Events planned for the two week Congress include Acadian and Franco family reunions, historic seminars and cultural attractions highlighting the French culture, which began in 16th and 17th century.  Ancestors of the colonial French settlers who came to the region called Madawaska still live in The Valley today. Many of the descendants of the refugees of the 1755 British deportation of Acadians out of Nova Scotia known as Le Grand Derangement live on both sides of the international dividing line along the St. John River.

“The St. John Valley Creative Economy Project is an outgrowth of a decade of cultural development,” says Jans.

Economic growth obviously depends on the transportation needed to get people to The Valley.  Therefore, attracting tourists who travel the four lane Trans Canadian Highway which goes through New Brunswick is essential to the regional growth plan.

“Our report is an opportunities document,” says Jans.

The St. John Valley Creative Economy Project report can be read at the website mcspolicycenter.umaine.edu