By Joyce Waugh

Waugh is President and CEO of the Roanoke Regional Chamber.

Wayne Strickland, Executive Director of the Roanoke Valley Alleghany Regional Commission, recently reported to Roanoke City Council on an analysis of the arts and culture sector.

The data presented by Strickland highlight the economics of the arts and culture sector as an industry, including the number of jobs and amount of investment made by this important sector. Yet, it is a much bigger story.

As the report was presented to City Council, it was made clear by the data and by the stakeholders in the room that arts and culture is not merely a “nicety” — it is an industry that is integral to our economic landscape.

Plays at Mill Mountain, performances at Opera Roanoke, exhibits at the Transportation Museum, concerts at Roanoke Symphony Orchestra, and amazing festivals at Elmwood Park offer much more than entertainment. The report rightfully focuses its attention on the hard numbers yet arts and culture offer a testament to who we are as a region and collective community. This sector of our region’s economy and culture blends us together and helps to define who we are as a community.

These organizations generate local jobs, spending, revenue, community engagement, and educational opportunities, and they are central partners for hospitality and tourism industries. In short, these museums, programs and events represent significant buying power throughout Virginia’s Blue Ridge.

When patrons attend the any of the myriad performing arts programs, from bluegrass concerts to opera recitals and everything in between, they often eat at a local restaurant or visit nearby retail stores. These non-profits also re-circulate revenue into our economy through the services they utilize and products they purchase, whether for marketing and equipment, costumes or software.

An analysis of 2016 data from sixteen organizations resulted in the following notable statistics:

• The Arts and Cultural sector supports over 200 full-time and part-time jobs. This figure does not account for the reported 2,228 volunteers, 231 seasonal workers, or 293 contract staff.

• The Arts and Cultural Industry helps generate $35.8 million in sales activity in the region due to new dollars attracted through visitors/tourism.

• While typically not the sole destination or attraction, arts and cultural organizations play a very significant role in supporting tourism in the region.

• The size and impact of the local industry sector based on the expenditures of arts and cultural organizations is $40.7 million.

• Revenues increased by approximately $7 million since the last survey in 2013. A significant part of that was an endowment increase of $3.5 million, but ticket sales and individual donations were also up.

Beyond these quantifiable measures of a vibrant arts and culture sector, there are a number of related intangible benefits associated with the industry that drive economic development.

From workforce development and business attraction perspectives, trends are shifting in the way businesses and individuals choose where to locate. Quality of place matters, and cultural assets are important in supporting existing and new businesses’ needs.

Increasingly, millennials are choosing a community to live in, and finding a job after they get there. To some, this seems counterintuitive, but it demonstrates the degree to which different generations value quality of place and community.

As a result, we are seeing businesses expand and locate where there is an existing labor pool. The workforce is mobile yet in a different manner than those in previous generations, and employers are adapting to shifting realities.

In addition to traditional factors, such as cost of doing business and regulatory environment, employers are paying close attention to the surrounding community assets during site selection. They recognize that quality of place contributes to a better competitive advantage in attracting talent.

In a world where people can almost work from anywhere, arts and culture add to the mix that draws individuals and businesses to the region. The quality and diversity such offerings play an important role in economic development and retention efforts.

At the Roanoke Regional Chamber, we work to elevate policies and initiatives that strengthen our overall business climate and help industry thrive. The success of our arts and culture sector carries a number of direct and indirect economic benefits for the business community as a whole.

We appreciate the Roanoke Valley Alleghany Regional Commission and the City of Roanoke for highlighting the link between arts and culture and measurable economic impact. Without a doubt our collective community life is richer, warmer, stronger, more diverse and happier due in large measure to the wealth of arts and cultural offerings we enjoy.