I recently attended the North Dakota Governor’s Summit on Economic Growth. Gov. Jack Dalrymple touted many of the lists where North Dakota is first and second in the nation. There’s no doubt we have an impressive amount of development, entrepreneurship and growth to be proud of in the eastern part of the state.
Sadly missing from the day was any discussion of arts and culture, and specifically how they are a key component to ensuring success in attracting people and business, one of the major issues for our metro.
But that was not the only recent development to ignore the value of the arts for strategic business development. The Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corp., Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce, the Fargo-Moorhead Area Foundation, Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau and the United Way of Cass Clay recently released the Regional Workforce Study. There are currently 6,700 open jobs in Cass and Clay counties. In five years, they anticipate 30,000 open jobs.
What is clear is that with our current low unemployment, we need to attract people from the outside.
The report offers up a four-pronged approach to solving this: cultivate, attract, build and innovate. The mission of the attract working group, of which I am a member, is to “enhance and coordinate efforts to bring new talent to the region.”
Nowhere in the report are the arts mentioned as one important way to assist in solving our growing workforce issues.
In a recent commentary in the Des Moines Register, John Pappajohn, a member of the executive board of Americans for the Arts’ Business Committee for the Arts, noted, “In Iowa, the arts serve as an economic driver that attracts companies, creates jobs and grows local and state revenue. Without a doubt, the arts mean business in Iowa.”
With a population of 207,500, Des Moines is a similar community to ours. They straddle the agricultural and technological fence, with a heavy dose of health care, higher education institutions (although no public four-year university) and entrepreneurial startups just like we do. But Des Moines appears to have a far better understanding of the value of investing in and using the arts to accomplish their strategic growth goals than we do.
Pappajohn continued, “Iowa’s rich arts sector includes a full set of major cultural institutions as well as many smaller but impressive arts organizations fueled by strong partnerships with Iowa businesses. In fact, business support for the arts is a vital piece of Iowa’s arts funding ecosystem and the city’s businesses and arts organizations have banded together to help the city attract and retain talent.”
Doesn’t that makeup of the arts community sound just like ours? Missing from our community is the strong partnership with business. We have yet to convince the business sector that real investment in the arts directly benefits their goals, too.
My point is this: When reports come out that represent the needs of this community, the arts are almost never mentioned in any meaningful way. And that’s because artists are almost never invited to the table at the beginning of the reporting process.
Look at the list of individuals in the acknowledgement page of the Regional Workforce Study. There’s not an arts leader on it, so it’s not surprising that the arts aren’t included.
Until there’s an understanding on the part of the business community that the arts must be a vital part of the essential planning for the economic growth of the community, there will always be this disconnect, and our community will lose potential employees, business and economic growth to other communities who are working together for this singular goal.
Pappajohn stated, “Companies have a vested interest in making the region stronger, and the push to make Des Moines more attractive is paying off. The population is growing and the number of young people engaged in civic life is increasing. A strong arts scene and a culturally vibrant community is a significant economic driver that shouldn’t be overlooked by Iowa’s businesses or its elected leaders.”
I put out this offer: I will speak to any potential employee and/or trailing spouse, any developer and any business leader whom anyone in the metro thinks would be more inclined to come here if they knew about all the arts going on, but I ask this of the business community in return: stop ignoring what we as an arts collective can do for you and start utilizing us as part of the solution to bringing in new business and employees. Let’s accomplish this goal together.
Photo credit: Dan Francis Photography
This article is part of a content partnership with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and originally appeared in the Monday, November 2, 2015, issue of the paper.