Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Arts Make Pottstown a Target for New Business

Careful kid, you'll put your eye out!
If you are excited by the news that a high-tech firm with more than 30 good-paying jobs plans to move from a farm field in East Vincent to High Street, you can thank Ralphie and his Christmas wish for a Red Ryder BB Gun with a compass in the stock.

"A Christmas Story," the seasonal offering at Pottstown's downtown TriCounty Performing Arts Center, was among the shows that first attracted VideoRay President Scott Bentley to Pottstown.

Bentley lives in North Coventry but said during an interview last week that "I never really came in to Pottstown until I started attending shows at the TriPAC."

He's been to several, but identified, with some difficulty, "A Christmas Story" as his favorite.

Scott Bentley, left
Once he started coming to Pottstown, he kept coming, and it looks like he and his company will be here to stay.

Steve Bamford, PAID's executive director and the guy who helped convince Bentley to bring his business here, said the story is not that unusual.

He said quality companies that want to keep valued employees, look to things like quality of life and the arts when deciding where to locate to they can keep those employees.

This is the latest and clearest example of what many leaders in Pottstown have been arguing for some time, that the arts can be an economic driver as well as a benefit to quality of life.

It's something I was trying to say in my Feb. 13 post about "creative currency" after a weekend visit to New York City.

But apparently I wasn't saying anything that the third generation of a national study didn't already know.

There's more economic impact to the arts than the price of admission.
The study, Arts and Economic Prosperity III, was released just last October, by Americans for the Arts.

In it, Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson is quoted as saying "not only do the arts provide a much-needed social escape for many in our communities, they also help drive local economies."

"Having an abundance of unique arts and events means more revenue for local businesses and makes our communities more attractive to young, talented professionals  whose decisions on where to start a career or business are increasingly driven by quality of life and the availability of cultural amenities," Peterson said in the report.

You can read more of the report here.

If you're not inclined to read it yourself, (it IS 300 pages) here are a few highlights:
  •  "Nationally, the nonprofit arts and culture industry generates $166.2 billion in economic activity every year—$63.1 billion in spending by organizations and an additional $103.1 billion in event-related spending by their audiences."

The $166.2 billion in total economic activity has a significant national impact, generating the following:

  • 5.7 million full-time equivalent jobs
  • $104.2 billion in household income
  • $7.9 billion in local government tax revenues
  • $9.1 billion in state government tax revenues
  • $12.6 billion in federal income tax revenues

(Hint to Pottstown leaders: the site even provides a free, on-line Arts and Economic Prosperity Calculator by which you can calculate the specific economic impact that might be expected from promoting an arts economy, as well as a tool-kit you can use to find out what works and what just sounds good.)

Understand, the above figures are not irrelevantly culled from Dallas or East Jabib Arkansas. The study's findings include figures from 11 Pennsylvania locations, including Lancaster, the Lehigh Valley and the "greater Philadelphia area," which includes Chester and Montgomery counties.

You can view Lancaster's numbers here; the Lehigh Valley's here; and Philadelphia County's here.

Among the things to be found there are figures showing spending by arts organizations and their audiences support nearly 31,000 in greater Philadelphia; more than 6,000 jobs in the Lehigh Valley and nearly 800 jobs in Lancaster.

It also shows that arts attractions bring in more dollars because it brings additional visitors from outside the area, who stay longer than locals and spend more than other U.S. travelers.

"When a community attracts cultural tourists, it harnesses even greater economic rewards," the report found.

"Non-local audiences spend twice as much as their local counterparts. Arts and culture are magnets for tourists and tourism research repeatedly shows that cultural travelers stay longer and spend more."

Better news is that the arts are a growing industry, as compared to other aspects of the economy.

In the past five years, the economic activity generated by the arts has increased by 24 percent.

"Right now, cities around the world are competing to attract new businesses as well as our brightest young professionals," the report said. "The winners will be communities that offer an abundance of arts and culture opportunities."

Hopefully, now that word is getting out about Pottstown, we can share in some of that abundance.

There are some promising signs, like the fact that Tri-PAC's most recently production, "Ain't Misbehavin'" sold out.

(Their next offering is a drama, "Toys in the Attic," which runs from March 8 to March 25.)

(If you would like to know about other shows in the area, check out Cheryl Thornburg’s “Curtain Call” blog on The Mercury web page with reviews and theater news.)

And who knows? Perhaps somewhere out there, a business owner is taking a second look at Pottstown because of a pleasant ride on the Schuylkill River Trail, or because a child takes music lessons at the High Street Music Co., or pottery classes at the Gallery on High.

Yes, once they get here, they have to be welcomed and the fit has to be right. But Steve Bamford has just shown us that high speed Internet, city water, city sewer, paved parking, restaurants can bring jobs.

Arts and Economic Prosperity III "shows conclusively that, locally as well as nationally, the arts means business."

Let's make Pottstown one of the places where that conclusion can be proven -- again and again.

That kind of gift is 10 times better than a Red Ryder BB gun with a compass in the stock (although that's pretty cool too.)

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