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The Export of Cultural Services: An Exciting Opportunity for Michigan’s Next Generation

Nov 29, 2023 | Arts, Economic Development, Entrepreneurs, Michigan | 0 comments

Over the last 20 years, Michigan’s economy grew at a compound annual rate of 2.5%. At that rate, it will take 29 years to double in size. Recently I wrote about a market that is growing at a rate of 8.5% per year — that is doubling every 8 years. That market is the international trade in cultural services. This market just broke the $1 trillion mark. America is its undisputed leader. Could tapping this market be a big win for our creative children and grandchildren?

I experienced an example of this trade in cultural services when I attended an “immersive” walk-through show called, Van Gogh Alive. This was a multi-sensory experience that both entertained and explained about the art, life, and times of Vincent Van Gogh. The show was created by Grande Experiences, a company half-way around the world in Port Melbourne, Australia. Started by ex-teacher Bruce Peterson seventeen years ago, Grande Experiences’ website says it has “displayed over 250 experiences in more than 180 cities to over 23 million visitors in 33 languages.” It employs dozens of creative designers and has earned tens of millions of dollars by participating in the international market for cultural services.

Michigan’s opportunity shortfall

In 2021, Michigan’s cultural production accounted for just 2.7% of our economy and employed 110,000 people. The top states for cultural production showed much higher proportions: Washington at 10.8% of its economy, California at 7.7%, and New York at 7.6%. In the next decades, I wonder if there would be enough opportunity in Michigan for the kids hoping to join the arts and design economy.

The pipeline of workers in the arts and design professions starts with our college graduates. Most of the jobs the Bureau of Labor Statistics list in the creative sector – Architecture and Engineering, Arts and Design, and Computer and Information Technology – require at least a bachelor’s degree. Here is how Michigan filled its pipeline of creative job candidates in the 2021-2022 school year:

A high proportion of recent college graduates are leaving Michigan for better job prospects in other states. In the arts and design fields, this brain drain may be even worse than average. If we look at the current core of 110,000 Michiganders working in the creative economy and assume they have a typical 40 year professional career, it would mean that only 1/40th, that is 2,750, would be creating openings for new graduates due to retirements. That’s a long way from the 15,797 who graduated in 2021-2022.

Retirements are not the end of the story, of course. Some openings will be created by people starting families, becoming disabled, or switching careers. A few openings will be created each year by growth of the economy, but not many if overall growth is just 2.5% per year. If these factors created even two or three times the openings created by retirements, Michigan would still have a serious shortfall in opportunity for the kids graduating each year in creative fields.

Is there an answer? Three ideas for the future

Will our children and grandchildren who love art and design find the opportunity to work in Michigan during the 2030s and beyond? Unless something changes, the numbers tell me the answer is no.

The “something” that could change might be to fully engage with the export market for creative services. So, let me offer three ideas that could put us on that path:

  1. Michigan could build on its relative strength in design services. According to the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, the proportion of industrial designers in Michigan’s workforce was 8.4 times what is typical for a state with a similar population.  For “Other Design Services,” the ratio was 4.6 times. With state assistance, entrepreneurs could create independent design studios that would serve clients all over the world. “Michigan Designed” could become a respected brand.
  2. Our research universities could support Michigan designers by focusing resources on the development of what has been called industry 4.0 technologies. These include three dimensional printing, artificial intelligence, augmented reality and virtual reality, blockchain, cloud computing, and the “internet of things.”
  3. Cultural entrepreneurs often have a strong drive to promote arts and design – financial results for them are often an important, but secondary concern. Recognizing how cultural entrepreneurs differ from traditional entrepreneurs, some universities – for instance the University of Minnesota — are starting cultural entrepreneurship programs. I could not find any Michigan colleges or universities that offer a major in this field. Michigan colleges and universities could boost our kids’ capabilities to found and grow arts and design organizations with programs like these.

The market for cultural exports is booming. Foundations, universities, and business-development folks could explore these and other ideas to fashion a strategy that would make Michigan a player in that market. If we were successful, it would help us hold on to some of the brightest and most creative members of the next generation. If an ex-teacher in Australia can found a firm that exports cultural services globally, so can many of our kids.

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