What Role Does Creativity Play in Columbus’ Economy?

Richard Florida’s 2002 book, The Rise of the Creative Class attributes high concentrations of creatives to the fundamental success of modern cities both in terms of culture and economy.

Over a dozen years later, a recent Columbus Metropolitan Club forum discussed how that creative class – artists, technology workers, musicians, designers – impacts the Columbus economy. Leading the discussion was the head of a powerhouse of creativity in Columbus, CCAD President Dr. Melanie Corn.

As the economy transitions from the industrial age, to the technology and information age, to its current, more creative age, “Creativity is now the decisive source of competitive advantage,” Corn says, quoting Florida.

Corn referred to another author, Daniel Pink, for the why now: Abundance, Asia and automation. As more manufacturing jobs are automated, positions in the field are on the decline. Asia is symbolic of outsourcing, as both manufacturing and more IT jobs are awarded to workers overseas.

It’s abundance Corn sees as the most important. She says to think about walking down the cereal aisle at the grocery store. While there may be a hundred choices, “In reality they are all about the same,” Corn says. “We may have our preferences – Do you want raisins? Do you want flakes?…but at the end of the day, you look at the ingredients, there’s a lot of commonality, and for most of us how do we choose within that great abundance? It’s design. It’s by looking at the package.”

As for direct impacts on the Columbus economy, statistics from the Columbus Chamber of commerce show non-profit arts generate $226 million in economic activity and provide 8,500 jobs. A 2006 study found the city’s creative economy generated $3 million in business receipts, $932 million in employee income and $67 million in state and local tax revenues, with 18,000 plus people employed in creative industries.

Corn calls for the next study. She’s curious as to what that growth and impact has been over the last decade, and thinks it has been sizable based on the overall growth in Columbus. Why? Because of rankings like the #6 City for Creatives by SmartAsset or the U.S. Census Bureau’s #1 City in the U.S. for Job and Population Growth.

“What I would argue is that those good numbers about creatives and job and population growth are connected,” Corn says. “That the growth in art and design, and more broadly speaking, creative jobs, is part of what is helping Columbus in this really great moment of prosperity for us.”

The creative influence on Columbus’ economy is apparent through the industries in which it excels – like fashion design. Outside of New York and Los Angeles, Columbus is the #3 city in the U.S. for fashion design, led by big names like L Brands and Abercrombie, down to smaller retailers like Homage, or the creatives behind the Alternative Fashion Mob. Advertising and graphic design is another industry in which Columbus has made its name.

Outside of the obvious industries, there are creatives in larger companies like Jeni’s or Nationwide, working internally on marketing or branding, or contributing in larger ways to strategic thinking.

CCAD grads have started local businesses like Fulcrum Creatives, Stump, The Table, Yellowbrick Pizza, the Vanderelli Room and more. Starting a business is something artists can actually do in Columbus – and something CCAD is trying to better equip its students for.

Corn came from a position in San Francisco. In addition to feeling like Columbus was a city where she could thrive, she feels it is a place where students and alumni can thrive. The Bay Area may have a strong creative economy, but a 22-year-old coming out of school, likely with debt, is facing rents upwards of $3,500/month.

How do you take risks? How do you be an entrepreneur?” Corn asks. “How do you get together with your friends and open up an art space? Those are the kinds of things that are possible here.” 

CCAD introduced a minor in business & entrepreneurship to help students prepare for these kinds of endeavors. But Corn says even if they don’t go for the minor, students don’t escape without some business training.

“I think we need to teach our students basic business skills and basic communication skills regardless of their major,” Corn says.

While a creative economy has obvious impacts like jobs, “Art attracts people to a city and encourages them to stay,” Corn says. 

It’s a philosophy from Peter Kageyama about what makes a city lovable. Low cost of living, good schools, access to public transportation, etc. make a city livable.

“How do you move from livable to lovable?” Corn asks. “A lot of that is about art and culture.”

It makes people stay – and puts Columbus at the top of rankings like the #1 City in the Midwest for Visitor Satisfaction by J.D. Power and Time’s #1 Best Big City in the Midwest.

Watch the full discussion on the future of Columbus’ creative economy here