first posted in the National Governor’s Association via Medium, March 8, 2019.
The Creative Sector: A Proven Economic Catalyst for Rural America
Rural regions contain some of our nation’s most iconic landscapes and cherished heritage, yet many of them are struggling with persistent economic obstacles. Rural America is contending with the outmigration of young and skilled workers, low levels of educational attainment, infrastructure needs (both physical and digital), rising poverty rates, barriers to health care and poor health outcomes and problems related to an evolving economy ― especially the loss of industry.
While the overall U.S. economy has rebounded from the most recent recession, rural areas have not shared equally in the gains. In spite of facing similar problems, some rural areas have prospered since the Great Recession: They experienced population growth, earnings growth, higher household incomes and the ability to attract and retain workers.
The “secret sauce” for those prospering rural areas is their ability to leverage their creative sector assets to catalyze economic and workforce development initiatives in those rural areas. An extensive body of research by economists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Endowment for the Arts has found:
- Rural counties that are home to performing arts organizations experienced population growth three times faster and higher household incomes (up to $6,000 higher) than rural counties lacking performing arts organizations.
- Rural counties with design-driven businesses ― those that integrate branding and design services ― recovered more quickly from the recession, showing more growth in weekly earnings over the period from 2010 to 2014.
- Two out of three rural businesses report that arts and entertainment are important to attracting and retaining workers.
- A forthcoming action guide from the National Governors Association (NGA), in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA), describes three principles of arts-based rural development for governors and other state policymakers.
- Creative sector initiatives are most effective when attuned to the particular creative assets and needs of rural communities.
- Those creative and cultural assets can be used as a springboard for local economic development ― that is, they can catalyze growth and amplify broader community planning and rural Main Street development.
- Creative sector initiatives add value when integrated with economic development, workforce development, community development and other state and local policies and practices.
When these principles are applied within a state’s existing policy framework, the steps can lift employment, wages and the quality of place in rural areas.
The action guide features numerous successful high-profile examples of states, regions and rural communities that have become more economically resilient and sustainable through creative sector initiatives. The Montana Artrepreneur Program, for example, expands entrepreneurial opportunities for rural visual artists by providing personal coaching and other business and marketing training over 10 months. Artists who received certification through the program between 2009 and 2014 experienced, on average, a 650 percent net sales increase and an 87 percent increase in out-of-state sales.
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts is promoting creative entrepreneurship by providing access to “maker” equipment, such as 3D printers, through rural libraries. This is intended to help strengthen the maker culture in rural areas and expand the libraries’ roles as anchor organizations for economic development. The libraries are supported by community action teams who are reaching out to residents and offering training.
States can similarly encourage rural community colleges to serve as anchors for creativity-based economic growth. Sheridan, a city in rural northern Wyoming, has been beefing up its creative economic development for more than a decade. It started by collaborating with the Northern Wyoming Community College District to commission a cultural sector inventory and form a local Creative Economies Council. The Wyoming Arts Council funded the community college district’s theater and dance program organizations, which gradually became prominent parts of the local asset portfolio. The state also contributed to funding the redevelopment of a Performing Arts and Education Center affiliated with the local college ― all to the benefit of the surrounding rural region.
Every state has rural areas, including some that we don’t normally think about as being rural, such as New York and Maryland. In New York, interagency coordination has been the key to providing grants focusing on workforce development incorporating the arts. The state’s Regional Economic Councils (REDCs), through the New York State Council on the Arts, are providing $5 million to support projects using the arts to foster workforce readiness and development. Local organizations can apply to develop career-training programs in artistic fields, including internships and apprenticeships in collaboration with high schools, community colleges and four-year colleges. Also, grants for large capital improvement projects through the Arts and Culture Facilities Improvement Grant Program are similarly being offered through the REDCs. The projects are intended to promote accessibility, stability and sustainability of cultural arts facilities and strengthen tourism and business development statewide ― “including in rural communities where such investments can be particularly impactful.” In 2018, the program awarded $20 million for capital improvement projects, and another $10 million is planned in 2019.
Further, some states have designated or certified creative districts that support workforce development. For example, in 2016, Maryland’s 24 state-designated Arts and Entertainment Districts supported more than 8,500 jobs, which collectively yielded $267 million in wages, $63.2 million in local and state tax revenue and almost $856 million in state economic output. Today, Maryland has 26 such districts.
The Next Generation Initiative headquartered in rural Iowa is a collaboration between the Art of the Rural and the Rural Policy Research Institute at the University of Iowa to strengthen connections among the arts, public policy and community and economic development. The Initiative’s web-based Digital Learning Commons and Exchange features how-to material on rural “creative placemaking” which occurs when arts organizations and community development practitioners deliberately integrate the arts and culture into community revitalization work and engage partners from a range of sectors, such as agriculture and food, and policy areas such as economic development, community development, housing and workforce development.
NGA’s forthcoming action guide, Rural Prosperity through the Arts and Creative Sector: A Rural Action Guide for Governors and States, outlines principles, process steps and further examples that constitute an overall Systems Change Framework for rural America based on the creative sector. The Systems Change Framework is organized according to five key roles for governors and states: providing leadership; capitalizing on cultural assets; building the state’s infrastructure for creative partnerships with other policy areas; developing local talent with creative skills and creating an environment friendly to investment and innovation. The guide will be released March 12, 2019. Follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #ruralarts.
Lisa J. Brown, Ph.D., was appointed Commerce Director by Washington Gov. Inslee and began serving the agency in February of 2019. Prior to serving as Commerce director, Brown served as chancellor of Washington State University, where she led the health science campus in Spokane.
Brown served in the Washington State Legislature from 1996 – 2013 in the Senate where she was majority leader and chaired the Rules Committee, Ways and Means Committee, and Energy, Technology and Telecommunications Committee. She served in the state House of Representatives from 1993 – 1996, where she was minority whip and minority floor leader.
She has worked extensively on economic development in Eastern Washington and on gender equity.
Brown earned her bachelor’s degree in economics at the University of Illinois and her master’s and doctoral degrees in economics from the University of Colorado in Boulder.
Tom Kealey is Idaho Gov. Brad Little’s appointment to serve as Director of the Department of Commerce, and began his service in January of 2019. Kealey is co-owner of restaurant Chicago Connection and a former Morrison-Knudsen executive, and served on the Idaho Endowment Fund Investment Board under Governor Dirk Kempthorne.
A lifelong Republican and retired CPA, Kealey believes in protecting the Idaho Constitution, taxpayers money and credit rating.
Kealey earned his accounting and finance degree from the University of Washington and an MBA in Strategic Planning and Marketing from Harvard Business School.
Originally appeared in the Spokesman-Review, 24 January 2019. By Becky Kramer of THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW
Education, health were key drivers in 2018, says economist
About 6,200 new jobs were created in the Spokane metropolitan area last year, reflecting the fourth year of strong regional job growth. The area includes Spokane, Stevens and Pend Oreille counties. For four years straight, the three-county area has gained more than 5,000 jobs annually.
Education and health care were drivers of job growth in 2018, said Doug Tweedy, regional labor economist for the Washington Employment Security Department. Both sectors added about 1,500 jobs last year.
Manufacturing also had a strong year, and so did professional and technical jobs. Attorneys’ offices and accountants were hiring last year, Tweedy said.
For comparison, the Spokane metro area created about 5,300 jobs in 2017.
Unemployment averaged 6 percent for the Spokane metro area in 2018, compared to 5.5 percent the year before.
Spokane County’s unemployment averaged 5.3 percent last year; Stevens County was at 7.2 percent; and Pend Oreille County at 7.3 percent.
CONTACT THE WRITER:(509) 459-5466 [email protected]
This article first appeared in the Columbia Basin Herald, 12 December 2018.
HARVESTING THE SUN
Lind boasts the largest solar array in the state
By EMRY DINMAN
LIND — Leaders from Adams County and the state at large flocked to the outskirts of the small town of Lind in October 2018 to commemorate the ribbon cutting of Washington’s largest solar array, the Adams Nielson Solar Farm, by Governor Jay Inslee and Lind-Ritzville Middle School Associated Student Body President Raegan Snider.
“It is a glorious day in Adams County, because Adams County has understood solar power for a long, long time,” Inslee said at the October ceremony. “It has long harvested photons through the power of photosynthesis to produce the best wheat in the world. This is just another generation of the development of solar power.”
As far as the eye can see, dark blue panels are tilted to soak up the sun, perched on barren dirt in this small corner of the Eastern Columbia Basin. The 200-acre solar farm is capable of producing 28 megawatts of energy, enough electricity to power 4,000 homes. The same amount of energy would release nearly 40,604 tons of carbon dioxide if it were produced by traditional fossil fuel generators, according to figures provided by Avista.
Energy generated by the facility power will be available to commercial and business consumers through Avista’s Solar Select Program. Businesses can purchase that power with an eight-year commitment, limited to 1.2 million kilowatt-hours per year at a rate of 5.3 cents per kilowatthour.
Inslee was joined by politicians from the region, including U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-WA, state House Minority Leader Rep. Mark Schoesler, Adams County Commissioner John Marshall, Lind Mayor Paula Bell and student leaders from Lind-Ritzville Middle School, which is located just over a ridge from the solar farm. Inslee referenced these students throughout his speech, and later asked Snider to join him in using a large pair of novelty scissors to cut the ribbon.
“These kids are going to be working on new technologies like this, building on this proud tradition of solar energy,” Inslee said. “The future of these kids is symbolized by these solar panels.”
Avista and Strata Solar jointly funded a $10,000 donation to the neighboring Lind-Ritzville Middle School for a digital reader board, delivering an oversized check to the Associated Student Body shortly before the ribbon-cutting.
Newhouse, the region’s congressman, praised what is only the latest addition to the region’s diversity of existing renewable energy sources, including nuclear, biomass, wind, hydro and now solar power.
“With further research and development, we can have the capacity to usher in a new era of energy production in the United States that provides a stable source of energy while also protecting our environment for generations to come,’ Newhouse said.
State Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, credited a speedy approval process on the county’s management practices and support from the Adams County Development Council.
Event speakers widely praised the efforts of Economic Development Director Stephen McFadden, who worked to get the facility located in the county and to make the permitting process as painless as possible. For his part, McFadden said much of the credit belonged to the development council as a whole, as well as various county agencies which worked in concert to move the project forward quickly.
Adams County will receive approximately $4 million over the next 20 years in property tax revenues from the array site, according to a press release, a groundswell of financial support for the relatively tiny community. “We have tremendous untapped potential here,” McFadden said. “We’re trying to grow and diversify the county’s economy by bringing in new businesses and job creators. They generate critical new tax base to support all of the things that already exist here.”