James Grunke

James Grunke

Economic diversity is a key component of any economic development strategy, which allows for sustainability rather than having only one or two dominant industries – we all know the painful reality of closures impacting hundreds of employees.

The Missoula Economic Partnership has five core areas that we concentrate on, one of which is the rapidly growing field of “creative industries.”

These are high wage, knowledge-based jobs. As many communities struggle to compete in traditional markets such as manufacturing, many now see the creative industries as a key component in a new knowledge economy, capable of delivering urban regeneration or growth. Knowledge-based workers choose were they want to live and work, so sense of place is key attraction.

Creative industries most broadly refers to a range of economic activities which are concerned with the generation or exploitation of knowledge and information, and include advertising, architecture, art, design, performing arts, software, video games, film, video and photography. The creative industries have been seen to become increasingly important to economic well-being, with some suggesting that "human creativity is the ultimate economic resource," which was largely defined by Richard Florida’s book, “The Rise of the Creative Class.”

Florida suggests that the creative class fosters an open, dynamic, personal and professional urban environment. This environment, in turn, attracts more creative people, as well as businesses and capital. He further asserts that regions with high concentrations of technology workers, artists, musicians, and a group he describes as "high bohemians” or highly mobile, exhibit a higher level of economic development. Florida refers to these groups collectively as the "creative class."

While Florida's theories are the source of both praise and controversy, I think the evidence suggests both cultural amenities as well as creative industries drive economies to higher levels and add to the sense of place.

There are currently hundreds of employees working in the creative industries in Missoula, and there is no reason it is not in the thousands. This is an industry that Missoula has a distinct advantage, and is somewhat unique in that includes both the nonprofit and for-profit world. In the film/video realm alone, Missoula is home of world-class companies such as Filmspur and the Audience Awards, led by Paige Williams; Hank Green and his many visionary projects; Zack Boughtan with Wild Montana, as well as the tremendous work being done at Warm Springs Productions. There are many more technology and knowledge-based companies which could be listed in our community that are poised for significant growth.

In the nonprofit realm, the Missoula Cultural Council’s economic analysis report suggest that over $39 million annually are contributed to the Missoula-area economy through the arts. We also have roving ambassadors that announce to the country and the world the cultural amenities of Missoula with the Missoula Children’s Theatre, the Montana Repertory Theatre and the UM Entertainment Management Program, all whom contribute to Missoula’s sense of place.

We are not starting from scratch, we have a growing and relevant industry that must continue to be nurtured, supported, applauded, and developed to continue to grow and diversify our area economy.

James Grunke is the president and CEO of the Missoula Economic Partnership.

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