Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Crowd Surfing and Cluster Development

By Kathy Young, Director of Operations.

Remember mosh pits? If you're like me  and you came of age at the height of this late 80's/early 90's concert experience phenomenon, then you either get a burst of adrenaline recalling the energy-infused atmosphere or are glad you avoided it, having chosen against getting up close and personal in an act of self-preservation. Maybe it's my size and gender, but the thought of being man-handled by a sweaty crowd and potentially dumped on my head seemed like something I could live without ("Really, I can hear them just fine from back here!").

For those who were either too young or had already moved on to civilized concert venues (where you can sometimes sit down during a show) during the explosion of "grunge," undoubtedly you've seen the photos, videos, and are probably picturing flannel shirts, that baby on the cover of Nirvana's Nevermind album, and maybe even the Seattle skyline right about now.

And what does this have to do with economic development? Well, last week, while at a one-night viewing of Cameron Crowe's Pearl Jam 20 documentary (coming soon to PBS and DVD!), I found myself thinking about target clusters. Yes, I realize that flies in the face of the anti-establishment mantra of alternative bands,  but in my defense, I'd spent the day discussing target sectors for the Cobb County Chamber of Commerce with my colleagues and I guess you could say I had clusters on the brain.

One of the really interesting observations in the documentary was how the early 90s Seattle music scene was so different from the punk rock scene in New York, as apparently pointed out to Chris Cornell by Johnny Ramone. The Seattle bands by and large enjoyed a strong camarederie; even Cobain and Vedder weren't the arch-enemies that the media always suggested. They went to each others' shows, played on each others' albums, and generally were as wildly excited about other bands' music as the fans were.

The closely knit music community formed more than 20 years ago has evolved into a significant part of the Seattle economy. While not a formally targeted economic cluster, according to a 2008 Economic Impact Study, the direct, indirect and induced impacts of the music industry translated to 22,391 jobs, $2.6 billion in sales, and $972 million in income in the city of Seattle alone. Further, Seattle’s strong technology sector (which is a formally targeted cluster) plays a significant role in the industry's evolution and has helped music industry jobs and wages in the region increase.

Developing an arts-related cluster is something that can be particularly challenging, but some communities, including several of Market Street's clients (Nashville, Austin, Memphis, Piedmont Triad, and the Coachella Valley to name a few) have thriving creative economy sectors of one kind or another. There are a number of factors that affect the long-term success of economic clusters. As so eloquently described by my colleagues recently:

A true cluster represents groups of interrelated businesses that choose to co-locate for one reason or another. Whether clustering occurs among competing or cooperative firms, there are a variety of different catalysts. Suppliers may choose to locate in proximity to a major manufacturer for research and development efficiencies and reduced transportation costs. Other firms may co-locate in a specific area in order to take advantage of a specialized labor pool or to be in close proximity to specific infrastructure. The advantages derived by firms from these catalysts, coupled with the network effects that often exist within clusters, often result in comparatively high potential for employment growth and wealth creation.

The many subsectors and niche industries captured under "arts" or creative media have a role for communities, whether through the development of a heavily targeted cluster initiative, or through the everyday nurturing of individual efforts or an emerging art scene. As Ford Foundation President Luis A. Ubinas recently noted upon the launch of the "ArtPlace" consortium (to be led by former CEOs for Cities President and CEO Carol Coletta), "too many people think of the arts as luxuries, as jewels, things that may not be necessary in times of need, things that can be put off. The arts are inherently valuable, and they’re also part of what’s going to get us out of this economic problem we’re in."

I agree, and I'm pretty sure Pearl Jam band members said something along those lines when theytestified before Congress in 1994 regarding Ticketmaster's possible breach of antitrust regulations. Actually, that's probably a topic for another blog... In the meantime, support your local bands!