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Vero ‘creative’ job rate tops Chicago?

STORY BY MICHELLE GENZ, (Week of March 1, 2012)

The arts support group that recently lost its county funding and salaried executive director just paid $15,000 to a San Antonio consultant group to come up with a dollar figure of the impact of the "creative industry" on Indian River County's economy.

The result: An eye-popping report which concludes that Vero Beach has a "rate of creative employment greater than Chicago's and on a par with New York City."

With a budget cut to $60,000, its office space reduced, and only a volunteer director – board chairwoman Barbara Hoffman – the report the Cultural Council commissioned produced a staggering figure in the field with which it is concerned: $346 million in output by an industry of 1,769 workers.

That amounts to 4.2 percent of the work force in the county – twice the national average.

Those figures, however, are based on an unexpectedly broad view of what the consultant deemed the creative industry here – a view that includes as part of the creative industry such businesses well outside the fine arts as direct mail advertisers, caterers and citrus producers.

Cited as a "case study" along with Riverside Theatre and the Vero Beach Museum of Art is the Indian River Citrus League, a local trade group. "Creativity is a driver of this successful industry," says the report.

"Wow," said County Administrator Joe Baird on hearing the $346 million figure. But when told the scope of the sectors included, he said, "We call citrus agriculture."

"There's a million cabs in New York," said council board member Robin Lloyd, on learning that the study's scope went beyond theaters, museums and galleries.

The study goes on to point out that freelance and self-employed creative workers are a "vital component" of the creative industry, numbering around 800, with 295 of those falling under the category of "writers, artists and performers."  It then presumes that those freelancers earn the industry average – $33,442 – since there are some working in all of the sectors.

The report does not factor in age or gender, said Steve Nivin, head of The Sabér Research Institute. Sabér is described on its website as an alliance between the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and St. Mary's University, with a mission of providing St. Mary's students with internships and work experience.

Run by a former chief economist for the city of San Antonio, the group lists four Texas clients and Broward County's Cultural Plan, generated two years ago. While Broward's website shows the firm as having participated on that project, it was not the lead consultant.

Sabér was selected from eight applicants that responded to the Cultural Council after it sent proposals to all 24 consultants recommended by the America for the Arts organization. The selection was made by a five-member Cultural Council committee that researched and deliberated "several months," according to Hoffman. "It was quite an exhaustive selection process."

"We thought we'd go ahead with the economic impact study because we had some money set aside," said Hoffman.   The Cultural Council has put on hold its goal of raising $115,000 for a full-scale cultural plan for the county.

Hoffman says there are currently no specific cultural advocacy roles for which the study's findings would be useful. She says a committee must be named to determine those roles. In the meantime, the study's purpose is more general, she says.

 "It educates the public of the importance of strengthening the growth of the cultural industry." 

As it is, the report draws on 2010 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and a proprietary database from EMSI, a 40-member firm in Moscow, Idaho that compiles labor force data by ZIP Code. EMSI claims to include data for business owners and the self-employed. Sabér says its formula for determining output for what it calls the "creative industry" is based on 2007 census data.

To arrive at statistics such as county property taxes collected from the creative industry – $11.8 million – the consultant used" industry standard ratios" for retail and office space.

The $346 million in output was calculated by using Economic Census data creating a conversion factor in each sector – a ratio of total sales to total payroll, multiplied by the total wages. The industry segment sales and payroll figures were only local in some instances; others had to be gotten from state and national figures and their ratio was presumed to be the same here.

While Hoffman wasn't clear on how the study would be used, the consultants offered examples of cities and counties trying to develop the arts industry.

As for Indian River County, the consultants conclude that the county "should consider ways to leverage the assets included in its creative industry to grow its economy," and that such development" merits additional attention and resources."

How exactly should such "leveraging" begin?
With another study, the consultants say.