Do creative workers fuel local economic performance?
Areas with the highest economic output tend to have average or above concentration of creative workers (creative ‘gain’). Conversely, areas with the lowest economic output tend to have a very low concentration of creative workers (creative ‘drain’). A higher concentration of creative workers is also strongly correlated with liveability.
So who are Australia’s creative workers and where do they live and work?
Australia’s creative workforce can be divided into two groups: those who work in creative service occupations and those who work in cultural production:
The concentration of creative workers increases closer to a capital city, as represented in the colour scheme of Figure 1 (where a location quotient of 1 equates to a concentration of creative workers that is roughly the same as the national average).
Figure 1. Concentration of creative workers by Local Government Area (LGA), 2011
Among the 52 areas with a higher than average concentration of people working in cultural production, 14 are located in regional Australia; nine are indigenous Heartland Regions (Anangu Pitjantjatjara, Tiwi Islands, MacDonnell, Torres Strait Island, Arukun, Coomalie, Central Desert, West Arnhem, Three Springs), four Connected Lifestyle Areas (Byron, Mount Alexander, Palerang, Hepburn) and one is a Regional City (Hobart).
This spread suggests that there are places with an above-average concentration of creatives, and not all of them are located in metropolitan areas; areas with small populations can certainly ‘punch above their weight’ when it comes to cultural production. The inclusion of Heartland Regions shows the importance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural producers for Australia’s creative workforce more broadly.
In terms of creative services, only metropolitan areas recorded an above-average concentration of workers in 2011. In Australia’s regional areas, the concentration of creative service workers mirrors the concentration of cultural production workers to some degree, with Hobart, Byron and Palerang accounting for some of the highest ranked regional areas for both creative worker categories.
Encouraging the growth of creatives in the regions
Across all LGAs there is a significant relationship between the total presence of creative workers and economic output (measured here as Gross Value Added or GVA), with the two measures shown to have a moderately positive correlation. There is also a significant relationship between creative worker presence and projected Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR).
Some of the nation’s greatest economic performers are regional cities that have a sturdy creative presence. Such places may be deemed beneficiaries of a ‘creative gain’. Conversely, the LGAs with the smallest GVA have a very limited creative presence. With the exception of Arukun, Torres Strait Island and Wujal Wujal, which each have an average concentration of creative workers compared to the rest of the nation, these low-ranking GVA regions can be described as having a ‘creative drain’.
All regional areas could certainly profit from a boost in creatives, and not just for economic reasons. Having a greater concentration of creative workers also helps greatly with a region’s liveability. As well as helping with place-making, a concentration of creative workers has a statistically significant and positive correlation with levels of university education and high income.
Places like Wyong, Murray Bridge and Greater Hobart provide excellent case studies for other regional areas (cities and non-cities alike) that currently have low or decreasing concentrations of creative workers, and are actively looking to increase their creative presence through cultural infrastructure. Ballarat and Geelong are two other examples of places where the drive to combine technology, talent and tolerance is fostering an emphasis on creativity. Newcastle and Toowoomba provide two alternative examples of creative cultivation and economic rejuvenation, this time through urban renewal projects.
By examining the kinds of historical developments and policies that have helped shape the creative imprint of these places, other regional areas aspiring to increase their creative potential can establish what actions can be taken to make these ‘creative gains’ a reality.
Does your community have a strong creative presence? Share with us your local strategies and insights so we can share them with others in our ongoing work on the role of creatives in regional economic development.