North Texas Daily

Making the brand: Denton’s creative class

Making the brand: Denton’s creative class

June 14
13:26 2013

Obed Manuel/Staff Writer

When Paul Echols graduated from the University of North Texas in May 2009 with a degree in economics, he had no idea he would one day own Square 205, a branding and interactive design agency based in Denton.

Back then, he said his only concern was building a website that would get him made. He developed the idea for Urban Dive, a social network based around the rating of local restaurants and services. But websites like Yelp and Urbanspoon were already providing that kind of service.

“It came down to one of two things,” Echols said. “I could either keep playing with this idea, or sell the domain name to some Brazilian guys for $5,000.”

Echols chose the latter, and in September 2011, Echols created the agency Square 205 as a spin-off of Storied Productions, Echols’ video production company. The company provides a range of services in branding, website design and digital marketing.

It was also in 2011 that District 1 council representative Kevin Roden was first elected to the Denton City Council. A year after being elected, Roden pitched the idea of something he dubbed the Creative Jobs Initiative, a plan that would place an emphasis on fostering the development of a strong job market for tech-centered professions.

For Roden, it is very simple – “We’ve created the kind of city people want to live in.”

As Roden sees it, visual arts students from the University of North Texas and Texas Women’s University find themselves in a precarious situation after graduation – stay in the city they love or leave for a larger city with a stronger job market in their area of expertise.

Roden said he sees a pool of young creatives ready to delve in the fields of graphic design, web design, app development and filmmaking.

“People want to make it here,” Roden said. “But there aren’t any jobs here, and they have to move to Austin or Dallas.”

Echols said it was the business-friendly environment in Denton that led him to establish his company in the city.

“I felt that Denton was supportive of new entrepreneurs,” Echols said. “It’s affordable to start a business here.”

Roden said it is the fact that Denton hosts two universities that ultimately maximizes the potential for his plans.

As a business owner, Echols said he feels the presence of college-aged students also provides him reassurance for his business’ future.

“I know people that are either in college or in the age group that are potential employees,” Echols said. “There is a constant flow for potential employees and interns.”

But Roden’s initiative has also had an impact on businesses that focus on the more traditional, tangible areas of the arts.

A byproduct of the initiative was a series of mixers where students, community leaders, and owners of both tech-centered arts and tangible arts businesses gathered to discuss Dentonites’ creative potential. The first of these mixers took place Oct. 22 at the Oak Street Drafthouse.

Present at the October mixer were Shelley Christner and Rachel Aughtry, co-owners and curators of The DIME Store. At the time, Christner and Aughtry were operating online as Etsy Denton to sell their handmade crafts, but after seeing the members of the creative community business come together, Christner said the two felt inspired to move forward with their business plan.

“It was at that event that we began to see the possible reality that we really could do a creative business in Denton,” Christner said. “[The mixer] kind of gave us the energy and courage to move forward.”

Christner and Aughtry then changed their operation’s name to The DIME Store, which stands for Denton Independent Maker Exchange. The store hosts more than 20 local crafts makers who sell their handmade goods.

As of now, Roden said most of the initiative has played out through the network of creative businesses, and has not required any official actions on behalf of the Denton City Council.

In the coming months, as the city begins to hash out its budget, Roden said he plans on pushing his fellow city council members to launch an economic development study to measure the growth, if any, of Denton’s creative economy. Roden submitted the idea in his budget suggestions at the beginning of May.

Another part of Roden’s plan that would require a vote from the city council would be the branding of a part of downtown Denton as an innovation district. Roden said it could be like the design center in Boston, Mass., which is a one-stop shop for a design-seeking clientele, according to Boston Design Center’s website.

“If we work together to develop the potential of this grassroots type of movement, we can create a healthy entrepreneurial ecosystem,” Roden said.

District 3 city council member Jim Engelbrecht said he thinks the city should investigate assisting any group interested in helping Denton’s economy develop.

“We have a great many creative folks,” Engelbrecht said. “We could certainly attract a lot more with a better infrastructure.”

Echols said he feels it will take some time before Denton’s creative potential is recognized, but for the most part, business is progressing in the right direction.

“I think that companies like Square 205 and Swash Labs are becoming more widely known,” Echols said. “As that happens for current companies, that will help future companies and potential clients in finding the right place to set up shop or find an agency to do their advertising.”

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