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North Carolina’s Future In the Creative Work of 2040

Nov 15, 2023 | Creative, Economic Development, Economy, Future, North Carolina | 0 comments

Say it’s 2037. Your child or grandchild has just graduated from college with honors in a creative field. It may be music, the visual arts, architecture, theater, writing, software design, broadcasting, arts management, or one of many related field. The creative fields are broad, but they have one thing in common – they create experiences that give us pleasure, meaning, understanding, and know-how. They also produce high economic value.

Nation-wide about one in 30 people in the workforce earn a good living in a creative field. With their new diploma, will North Carolina kids find a good living there? Did their education give them the skills to compete with kids from other states? Will they find opportunity in North Carolina or have to move hundreds of miles away?

Where does North Carolina stand today in the creative economy?

North Carolina seems to be holding steady in the growth of its creative sector. It has the 12th largest economy among the states and the 12th largest creative sector. According to an analysis by the National Endowment for the Arts, 3.1% of the state’s gross domestic product (GDP) was produced by arts, cultural, and design activities.

What these rankings hide is that the top ranked states are running away with the production of creative goods and services. The creative sector contributes 7.7% of California’s GDP, 7.6% of New York’s, and 10.8% of Washington State’s. Washington State – with just 73% of North Carolina’s population – produces $72.9 billion of annual value in its creative sector compared to $20.2 billion in North Carolina.

The snowball effect

Let’s take a closer look at how North Carolina fares with components of the creative economy compared to the U.S. average and the best states:

Percent of State GDP Produced by Arts and Cultural Production

Source: Arts and Cultural Production Satellite Account, U.S. and States

Leading states are not equally strong in all areas of the creative economy. There seems to be a snowball effect. Initial success in one sector attracts more of the same. Washington State’s overall lead in creative production, for instance, comes from its cluster of software-driven businesses like Amazon and Microsoft. This allows it to lead in publishing, information services, and online retail. California has a strong cluster in motion pictures, independent artists, writers, performers, and agents/managers for artists. Sound recording? Go to Tennessee. Broadcasting? Go to New York. Production of live shows? Go to Nevada.

What’s North Carolina’s unique role in the creative economy? Obviously, none of the above. Unless something changes, our kids will find slim pickings in North Carolina’s creative economy of the 2030s and 2040s.

Why does it matter?

In 2021, only 125,636 people in North Carolina’s workforce of 4.6 million were involved in arts, culture, and design jobs. That’s slightly less than the number of people in Building and Grounds Cleaning and Maintenance Occupations. What does it say about a state that employs more people as custodians than people in creative professions? The value added to the North Carolina’s economy per creative worker averages $160,782. Sounds like a case of misplaced priorities to me.

In 2021, the creative economy contributed over $1 trillion to the U.S. GDP. That was larger than the contributions of construction, transportation, or utilities. 4.9 million people work in creative fields. That’s just 3.2% of all U.S. jobs, but they produce 4.3% of the county’s GDP. This is high value work.

With the addition of digitalization, the U.S.’s exports of creative services has grown from $487 billion in 2010 to $1.1 trillion in 2020. According to a report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the United States is the world leader in exports of software, research and development services, and digital versions of all forms of information. These digital exports have been growing at a compound annual rate of 8.5%. If that rate continues, the U.S. will be exporting $4 trillion by 2040.

Looking to the future

Will North Carolina’s children participate in the growth and prosperity the creative economy and its digital exports bring? Next week, we will look at what North Carolina is doing to prepare our kids for the jobs of the future, the support networks we are putting in place, the encouragement government and foundations are providing, and the role of arts and cultural entrepreneurs.



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