Shannon LaBare left her corporate job of seven years, and work that spanned the country, to focus on her community. She should have left earlier, she said, but, as a graphic designer and marketing professional, she believed the lie that her talents wouldn’t be needed here because “there aren’t a lot of opportunities for creatives in Bakersfield.”

She soon realized the lie was simply that, untrue. And Purveyor House was born. Shannon's company offers strategic marketing, brand development and design for businesses.

For years, she explains, her heart wasn’t in her job, which involved marketing for a large global corporation. But now, since opening her own business, her heart is fully engaged in her work and her community. Bakersfield “desperately needs to be reinvented and rebranded,” she says.

She’s had the opportunity to work with some of the most innovative minds in Bakersfield over the past year while freelancing and transitioning to Purveyor House, and she is inspired.

With her own involvement in the community, years as a design professional, and since launching her own marketing business, Shannon feels that she has a finger on the pulse of the local creative community. So this year, as she viewed and voted in the Best of Bakersfield survey, she felt that the ballot lacked spots for the creative businesses that she is so inspired by. She saw an opportunity to showcase and celebrate small companies that create and innovate.

She noticed these missing categories: interior designer, graphic designer, marketing agency, advertising agency, tattoo artist, hand-lettering artist, wedding planner, event venue, web designer, non-profit, jeweler, e-commerce, artist, visionary, workshop, workspace, museum, photographer, music teacher, and musician, among others.

Where some might see just holes, Shannon saw opportunity. This is the thing with entrepreneurs: they excel at problem solving. Seeing these gaps stirred Shannon to action. She didn’t just want to create a support group. Her idea quickly morphed from sharing a rant online into action. She decided to make a “best of” survey for creative professionals, particularly those that qualify as small businesses.

On Nov. 30 she launched the Best of Creative Bakersfield Experiment with a simple call to action. She requested submissions in creative professional categories. And it struck a nerve. By day’s end, there were over 100 submissions in 20 categories. Reposts, shares, comments, a lot of “Amens!" and over 5,000 views later, the creative class has spoken. With such an overwhelming and immediate response, Shannon says they’re saying, “We are professional businesses and should be treated as such.”

She feels that the timing is right to open up a space to recognize creative businesses for what they are - innovative, unique and hard-working. ⠀

As Shannon wrote in her post announcing the project, “Business to the creative class looks different. It can be the real estate developer who's taking a chance on opening a passion project downtown. It can look like a stay-at-home mom killing the online business world. It can be a side photography hustle that opens shop at 9 p.m. It can be a blogger that's tired of hearing ‘Oh, that must be a fun hobby.’ Yet, there's one common thread ... IT'S A BUSINESS.”⠀

And Shannon shares that she’s fine if these creative innovators never make it on the existing Best of Bakersfield ballot. They’re happy to do their own thing, in their own space, their own way, with the community’s unbridled support. It’s fitting that a group of innovators would channel this entrepreneurial spirit and create their own best-of list. She’s positive it will be a wild and fun ride that they can own and build.

Shannon’s goal is to showcase the local talent and opportunity that exists here. She wants to help influence the hiring of in-town creatives to strengthen the economy and move this place forward in a new way.

Truth is, a strong and growing creative community does exist here. Just last month, on Nov. 29, The Gathering Table hosted its first ever dinner at Bakersfield Country Club to connect, shape and elevate local creatives. The group plans to make it an annual event, with smaller gatherings throughout the year.

The work of creative innovators should be acknowledged as legitimate business that adds rich texture, depth and diversity to our community. I would take it a step further and argue that it is crucial to the future of our city that we proactively attract and retain creative class professionals. And what better way to begin than to legitimize and recognize their work?

You can find more about Shannon’s Creative Bakersfield Project at: www.purveyorhouse.com/creativebakersfield

More evidence of transformation: Rumor has it that owners of The Good Nut Co., a local gourmet nut business owned by Jeremy Blackwell and Katy Ellis that sells roasted favorites and homemade toffee, might consider opening a market in the brick building recently sold at the northeast corner at 18th and O streets, east of Chester. As this newspaper mentioned in the Dec. 5 cover story, "Quiet Transformation," there has been a lot of exciting new growth in this area of downtown. I’ll be watching this one closely.

Merry biking: Bike Bakersfield is hosting its annual and very popular Holiday Lights Bike Ride Dec. 14 at 7 p.m. The group meets at the front of The Marketplace and rides through the Haggin Oaks neighborhood. Participants are encouraged to decorate their bicycles for the ride.

• Bigger boat please: While family’s in town for the holidays, give yourself a pass one night and take them to dinner downtown and out for a drink at Tiki-ko. The halls of this kitschy hideaway are decked out for Christmas, and they released a brand new menu with lots of fresh concoctions to try, including Shark Attack ($12): “You’re gonna need a bigger boat for this one! With vodka, blue curaçao, coconut cream, pineapple juice and strawberry purée, this is one bad fish.”

Dreaming that dream: I received dozens of emails, comments, shares and posts about my Dec. 4 column, "Bakersfield a tech hub? Let’s all dream that dream." From my unofficial “survey,” it would seem that our community is eager to learn of ways to diversify and strengthen our local economy.

Human connection: Reader David Franz, education partnership director for the City of Shafter, wrote that Raj Chetty, renowned economics professor at Stanford University (and some would argue the youngest and most influential economist in the world today), and I both published articles this week about the power of human connection. David commented, “The wealth of the Valley (and everywhere) is not in natural resources, great as they might be, but in ‘amazing, ambitious humans doing awesome things.’ So true.”

Raj’s paper is titled "Who Becomes an Inventor in America? The Importance of Exposure to Innovation." Raj is part of a team behind The Equality of Opportunity Project, which studies how to improve economic opportunities for children. The group uses big data to identify new pathways to upward mobility. The paper notes that innovation is widely viewed as the engine of economic growth.

The group’s project found that there are many “lost Einsteins” – women, minorities, and children from low-income families who would have had high-impact discoveries had they been exposed to innovation while growing up. If these groups invented at the same rate as white men from high-income families, the project argues, we would have four times as many inventors in America today. Their findings suggest that improving opportunities for disadvantaged children may be valuable not just to reduce disparities, but also to spur greater innovation and growth.

More from this group’s important work can be found at: www.equality-of-opportunity.org

Anna Smith writes a weekly column about downtown Bakersfield. She can be reached at anna@sagebakersfield.com. The opinions expressed are her own.

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