Defining Economic Development

June 30, 2017

By: ArtPlace America

The goal of economic development is to improve the economic well-being of a place – usually a city, state or region. Economic development often sits on the ‘demand’ side of the labor market – building stronger economies that lead to employment opportunities in the private, public and nonprofit sectors (Siegel and Seidman, 2009). It can be informed by many levels of society – there are policies and funding streams coming from the federal, state, regional, local and neighborhood levels as well as anchor institutions and foundations contributing to the economic health of communities every day. And the people responsible for economic development in a place tend to focus on creating jobs, building infrastructure, and creating economic growth.

But economic development also needs to be about the quality of life within a place. How do you create economic development where every member of the community can benefit while supporting existing culture and community and not uprooting residents and businesses? In a recent article, Sarah Treuhaft of PolicyLink, wrote, “Despite our collective need for inclusion, inequitable growth remains the norm. In the post-recession economy, America’s metropolitan regions are again growing, but it has been a low-wage recovery and most regions are not making progress toward racial and economic inclusion… Truly inclusive growth requires focused and intentional strategies that ‘connect people and places that have been left behind to good, family-sustaining jobs and wealth-building opportunities in the regional economy.” As economic development has become more inclusive of smaller scale strategies – micro-lending, shopping local, small businesses, entrepreneurship – there has been movement towards equity, but we are not there yet.

Arts and culture strategies can help grow inclusive economies. Why would an organization like the Delta Regional Authority – which serves 252 counties and parishes of the eight state Delta Region and works to bolster the Delta economy – offer funding to strengthen local economies through arts and culture?  Well, they believe that arts and culture strategies can foster equitable economic development by:

  • Revitalizing vacant and underutilized land, buildings and infrastructure
  • Attracting and retaining non-arts related businesses and skills
  • Training the next generation of cultural workers
  • Expanding entrepreneurial ranks of artists and designers
  • Creating jobs in construction, local businesses and cultural activities

Arts and cultural strategies can impact economic development in a variety of ways. We have attempted to unpack the term further in a previous blog post. In the newsletter that follows and in blog posts this month, we’re exploring more exciting examples.