Investments in creativity yield a high dividend for R.I.

Guest Column: Lisa Carnevale
Posted 10/25/10

While the candidates for governor battle it out in attacks these late days of the campaign season, a public conversation is noticeably missing around a sector that has increased jobs and economic activity.

Earlier this year, a study of Dun & Bradstreet-registered businesses found the number of creative-industry jobs in Rhode Island increased by 1,300 in the last year, bringing the total figure to more than 13,000 employed in the creative sector. This is impressive growth in one year despite the challenging economy.

One could assume Providence spent all that money on marketing and branding itself the “Creative Capital” with good reason.

Rhode Island is filled with creative people. And creativity is what feeds innovation. And yet while developing the knowledge economy is important, let us not forget it is still just one aspect of what should and can be a diverse and dynamic strategy around economic development.

Advanced manufacturing still happens in this state. Design still happens in this state. We would be nowhere without tourism. And creative people make all these areas succeed.

Indeed, economic development and jobs are at the top of each candidate’s plan. But their plans are flawed. At best, they contain tactical ideas, but no real overarching vision. At worst, they are being driven by the ongoing news coverage on the controversial 38 Studios deal.

To this point, for a $75 million loan guarantee, the company will move to Rhode Island, with a promise to deliver 450 jobs. Contrast that with the state’s current investment in the creative sector of less than $2 million through Rhode Island State Council on the Arts. While I support bold ideas, financial support for our existing creative economy is a proven return on investment.

Deciphering each candidate’s vision for an economically strong Rhode Island is very difficult indeed.

From my perspective, Rhode Island’s path to the future is clear: creativity is a powerful force in the state’s economy. And any governor who wants to grow jobs, attract businesses and welcome more visitors needs to understand that fact and act on it. •

Lisa Carnevale is the executive director of Rhode Island Citizens for the Arts.

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