Creative centers or ‘zoos’?
At the end of 2009, the government started the initiative by creating a foundation based on donations from major corporations and financial companies as well as dormant deposits. Six years have passed, and when you search “Smile Microcredit Bank,” it redirects to the Korea Inclusive Finance Agency. The state-run microcredit business was absorbed by the agency that was founded on September 23.
The fate of Smile Microcredit Bank reminds me of the Creative Economy and Innovation Centers. As the core initiative of the Park Geun-hye Administration, a major company is in charge of a center in 17 regions to provide assistance and support for startup companies. The outcomes and future of the creative center are controversial. Just as the microcredit bank got absorbed and the Green Growth Experience Center disappeared, many projects that the creative center may close when the administration changes. Ahn Cheol-soo of the People’s Party called the creative centers “state-certified zoos” and criticized that they aggravate the structure of small and medium companies being subordinate to conglomerates. There had been support for startups and small businesses before the creative centers were established. Techno Parks and Regional Intellectual Property Centers have similar functions. The South Chungcheong Creative Center, which I visited last year, is actually located within a techno park. The redundancy of techno parks, regional intellectual property centers and creative centers is constantly addressed.
The Korea Inclusive Finance Agency wants to provide user-oriented customized financial support for working-class citizens by integrating the Smile Microfinancing and Sunshine loan products. It is a good initiative. While the absorption of the smile financing into the Korea Inclusive Finance Agency may be considered an attempt to erase the trace of the preceding administration. But as long as it accomplishes what it aims to, it won’t matter.
The same goes for the creative centers. If they work and produce outcomes, it won’t matter if it started for the administration to show off.
Startup companies need support and assistance. But the government needs to provide support systematically. The first creative center was established in Daegu in September, 2014, and it’s been over a year since the 17-center structure was completed in July 2015. The opposition party criticizes the program, while the government claims it is going well. It’s about time we make objective and detailed analysis on the outcomes and problems so far. Many of us wonder if they really are zoos or not and how the funding from the government and companies is used.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 10, Page 30
*The author is a deputy national news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.