Why Economic Development Depends on Arts & Culture


By Andrew Hershberger

We are excited to be engaged in many community conversations regarding the future of Colorado Springs and it is empowering to see a pivot toward the importance of the region’s quality of life and how it affects growth. A vibrant arts & cultural community is crucial to the economic development equation. It is important to recognize that while Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins continue to experience robust economic growth, driving the Colorado economy up into the list of top 5 fastest growing economies nationally (1), Colorado Springs continues to be outpaced. In a December 2013 report by Americans for the Arts, Colorado Springs is in the bottom three nationally of cities of comparable size or larger for funding for local government for the arts per capita. Denver happens to be listed as number one (2). Facts matter and these figures should stand as a challenge to community stakeholders. We can do better.

Certainly there are many more reasons for our friends to the north enjoying sustainable economic development, a growing, dynamic workforce and a diversified industry portfolio but here are a few correlations between arts and cultural investment and economic development.

A high quality workforce does more than work.

A core practice of economic development is to attract companies from outside the region with an educated and high paid workforce. This type of employee workforce values quality of life for themselves and their families. Arts and culture stimulate the mind and promote well-being, while making communities desirable places to live and thrive. Art and culture fosters innovation and accelerates ingenuity. Great thinkers, innovators and early adopters desire cultural assets that inspire their creativity.

Arts and culture build civic brands

Attractive cities that people and companies want to relocate to and remain are not defined by their suburbs and gated communities; they are defined by their city centers where arts and culture is grounded. Cities across the country are investing in the redevelopment of their urban cores. Young professionals are attracted to dynamic downtowns featuring walkable public spaces and arts and culture attractions.

Innovative, high growth companies are moving to cities where high value employees want to work and live. For this reason young professionals have become a focus of attention. They are the sustainable, revenue generating, tax base workforces for the next generation. Communities across the nation will be faced with the task of absorbing the gigantic baby boomer generation already retired or heading into retirement at a rate of 10,000 plus a day nationally.

Arts and culture creates jobs and directly contributes to local economies.

Colorado Springs already benefits from a sound workforce sector in arts and cultural generating revenue and stimulating the economy. In a 2012 Arts & Economic Prosperity Report produced by the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region (COPPeR) in cooperation with Americans for the Arts, reported that the nonprofit arts industry and its audience have a $72 million economic impact in the Pikes Peak region each year and helps to generate and support 2,168 jobs (3). This impact goes beyond employee taxes and property taxes, both residential and commercial – it impacts the LART tax and sales tax that our body politics cherishes and proportionally paid for by tourists and visitors from outside the region. Since 2012 our region has experienced growth and thus impact has proportionally grown.

Impressive things are already happening in Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region. Colorado Springs is fortunate to have a strong and growing base of innovators and early adaptors to spur on the early majority toward the development and expansion of a thriving arts and culture community. Together Colorado Springs can create the vision and plan to invest in the future of our community and contribute to the economic development of our region for the benefit of all.

  1. States With the Fastest (and Slowest) Growing Economies
    By Thomas C. Frohlich, Sam Stebbins and Michael B. Sauter June 24, 2015 11:44 am EDT
  1. Americans for the Arts, December 2013 (www.AmericansForTheArts.org).
    TOTAL LOCAL GOVERNMENT SUPPORT Local Arts Agencies in the 60 Largest U.S. Cities: 2007 to 2014 (estimated)
  1. Arts & Economic Prosperity Report: http://www.coppercolo.org/resources/aep-report/Arts