In the go-go days of the mid-2000’s, Richard Florida was king, and the creative economy was going to lead us to cafe-cultured prosperity. Here in the central Puget Sound, not only did we take credit for all our smart people, we actually hired Richard Florida to come and help us develop strategies to capitalize on these resources. But you don’t really hear too much about that these days. What happened to the creative economy?
Obviously, the “Great Recession” has taken the wind out of the sails of a lot of investment in the amenities that help cities attract and retain high demand workers. Cultural institutions are struggling, bookstores are closing, and paying too much for a latte is gauche. Not to mention the huge cuts going on locally and nationally in education that keep us from producing the STEM field degrees that power a lot of that high tech innovation.
The good news is that some cities are still trying to find a way to make these investments:
Philadelphia unveiled a grant program on Tuesday that will make money available to creative businesses for projects that generate jobs. Nonprofit and for-profit businesses will be able to apply for the grants to undertake facility projects that create temporary and permanent jobs, such as renovated office space, mixed-use facilities, artist workspace and creative industry incubators. The city expects to award about 10 grants ranging from $20,000 to $100,000 through the program, which is being funded with $500,000 from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Community Development Block program.
First of all, Philly has an “Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy” which I think is awesome. It really reflects what a lot of people have been saying for the last decade or so, which is that we focus too much on arts = 501(c)3 nonprofits. Technology and media have gone way beyond that, and it’s important to start to make the legal and structural changes to operate in the new world. Frankly, the design of video games is some of the most high quality, creative, visually stimulating work that you’ll see, in or out of a gallery or museum. Notice that they are giving grants of up to $100,000 to for-profit businesses to do this kind of economic development.
Second, I realize that we’re all broke and that local jurisdictions are cutting funding for health and human services, but we know that the only way we’re going to make it out of this downturn alive is to ensure that we maintain the economic development assets that helped us grow and prosper in the first place. The most dangerous thing is for other regions to make those investments while we don’t, because the tides can turn very quickly toward “the next hot place.” Let’s not forget that talent is what got us here and we need to make sure we’re still a place that fosters and attracts talent. We just need to be “creative” in how we continue to make those investments in the short term.