Creative class pumps $674M into GR economy


Grand Rapids is becoming a hotbed for creative talent.

Creative industries here have grown in the past two years, according to the 2016 Creative State Michigan: Creative Industries Report issued by Creative Many, a Detroit-based statewide nonprofit that works to develop the state’s creative economy.

The nonprofit’s last Creative Industries Report came out in 2014, said Joe Voss, director of strategy partnership. For the 2106 report, Creative Many partnered with Detroit-based nonprofit data collection and research firm Data Driven Detroit and the Toronto firm Kerr Smith Design. Statistics for both for-profit and nonprofit organizations are from the U.S. Department of Labor.

“Overall, the state of Michigan has seen an increase in employment in all industries between 2011 and 2014. During that same time period, however, employment in creative industries has experienced much less growth in the state. Creative industry employment as a percentage of all employment has declined since 2011,” the report said.

“Design now represents the largest creative industry sector in the state in terms of total employees and has shown continuous and significant increases over the study period. Although there has been some decrease since 2011, the film, audiovisual and broadcasting cluster employs the second-largest group of workers. Literary, publishing and print has shown the greatest decline in employment, with 2,923 fewer employees and a 15.8 percent decline.”

Here were some of the local key findings of this year’s report:

  • In 2014, creative industries in Grand Rapids contributed $674,060,461 in wages through 11,800 jobs from 808 establishments.
  • From 2011-2014, wages in Grand Rapids increased by 21.04 percent and employment by 16.87 percent.
  • While Grand Rapids is primarily known for design, which accounts for 53 percent of creative employee and nearly 63 percent of creative industry wages, the top creative occupations in Grand Rapids are software developers, graphic designers and computer programmers.

“The thing to take away is that creative industry employment is growing but not at the same pace as employment in general,” Voss said.

“What we see in Grand Rapids in particular is the heavy emphasis of design. It’s a real growth. It’s the biggest piece of growth, more than half of creative employment in the city. A big piece of that is furniture. You just have a great, long history of furniture design. It’s the front end of the creative industry’s growth.”

The report, funded by a grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration through its Local Technical Assistance program, looked at regional profiles of Grand Rapids, Detroit, Flint and Ann Arbor, Voss said, noting that Grand Rapids in particular is doing well.

The report analyzed employment, wages and establishments data in 12 creative industries from 2011 to 2014: advertising; architecture; art schools, artists and agents; creative technology; culture and heritage; design; fashion, garment and textile; film, AV and broadcasting; literary, publishing and print; music; performing arts; and visual arts and craft.

Even though globally recognized manufacturers such as Haworth, Herman Miller and Steelcase support a full spectrum of designers in the Grand Rapids area, the contract business furniture industry is experiencing fundamental shifts, the report read, meaning that connected mobile workers, shared corporate office spaces, and technology-based employment are all beginning to translate into distinctly different requirements for workplace infrastructure.

“Grand Rapids has seen an increase in diversity of employment in creative industries, but the design industries dominate,” the report said.

“However, there are increases in other sectors such as creative technology; literary, publishing and print; and visual arts and craft. The furniture industry remains influential in attracting high-caliber design practitioners and functions as a focal point for related business growth.”

The report highlighted the impact of ArtPrize, noting that the competition has contributed millions of dollars to the local economy, adding hundreds of jobs. Since 2009, ArtPrize has attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors to Grand Rapids, marking it as not just a tourist destination but creating “a desirable community for young, highly skilled workers and the companies seeking to attract them.”

“ArtPrize is a hugely successful event, receiving well over 1,500 artist entries this year. Over 160 venues participate annually. In 2013, ArtPrize demonstrated a significant contribution of $22.2 million in economic activity and 253 jobs to Grand Rapids. Since its launch, ArtPrize has attracted almost 2 million visitors to the city,” the report said.

Also notable in the report was the statewide success of Michigan’s film industry, Voss said, especially in commercial work.

“Even though it’s looking at a time when it was toward the end of (state government) incentives, the strongest film industry cluster is commercial. What’s interesting is that the state’s always had a strong commercial (industry) and that wasn’t negatively implemented by the incentives,” he said.

“That’s another interesting piece in terms of what narratives you can pull out of this study. It does not tell the narrative of the destruction of the film industry because of the removal of the incentives, and I think there are some folks who want that to be the narrative. … It was (big) before incentives, and (continues) after incentives to be a big impact.”

A major factor in the Grand Rapids area’s creative strength is education, the report said, highlighting schools like Kendall College of Art and Design and Grand Valley State University, which launched its multidisciplinary Design Thinking Initiative “to apply iterative, project-based learning in the context of complex real-world problems.”

“Creative businesses working in the digital realm are growing rapidly in Grand Rapids, creating a productive ecosystem of software developers, graphic designers, time-based media specialists and information strategists,” the report said. “Bringing new technology to a community steeped in design heritage suggests the potential for influential development in this expanding arena.”

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