By Jessica Leber
The finance guys on Wall Street might throw a lot of money around in New York’s restaurants, bars, and housing markets, but the finance sector doesn’t have the level of influence on New York City’s local economic health that you might think. Instead, it’s the growing numbers of striving actors, writers, designers, and artists that give the city its edge.
That’s according to a new report from the Center for an Urban Future, a think tank based in New York. It concludes that not only has New York City overtaken Los Angeles as the city with the most creative workers over the last decade, but also that it has had among the fastest-growing creative economies. Only Austin’s and Portland’s creative sectors grew more in size, while Los Angeles’s declined. New York City is also home to the greatest portion of creative jobs in the nation—8.6% in 2013, up from 7% a decade prior. No other industry in New York matches that nationwide heft, even finance and insurance.
The Center for an Urban Future uses the data to argue that the city’s creative economy is its greatest competitive advantage today. Although New York’s tech sector is growing faster and the retail and healthcare fields employ more overall workers, the creative class and the culture it creates is what attracts others to the city, the report says. But it also notes that this advantage is at risk as other cities, like Portland and Detroit and even Shanghai and Berlin, aggressively court creative individuals, nonprofits, and businesses.
“New York has this incredible advantage because it’s part of our DNA. We’re not starting from scratch,” says Jonathan Bowles, the center’s executive director. “But there’s real competitors for New York today. Maybe 15 years ago, for a lot of emerging artists, there weren’t so many options.”
Overall, the report found that 7%, or nearly 300,000, of the city’s jobs are either employed in 10 creative industries (advertising, film and television, broadcasting, publishing, architecture, design, music, visual arts, performing arts and independent artists), self-employed workers in creative fields, or creative employees in non-creative fields. While employment in finance and legal service has stagnated, employment in most creative fields outpaced the city’s overall 12% job growth.
New York City has aggressively tried to develop its tech sector in recent years. But Bowles cautions that New York’s policymakers should not ignore the challenges that creative workers face, which include skyrocketing rents for housing and work space, a decline in government funding support for arts and cultural organizations, student debt, and a lack of citywide economic develop policies addressing the sector.
“I do think sometimes that with all the focus on tech, that policymakers have overlooked this incredible economic driver that’s right under our noses,” says Bowles. “What New York has with its creative sector is really very much like Silicon Valley. It’s long been on top, and other cities are trying to find that special sauce,” Bowles says.
There’s plenty more data in the report about New York City.
Photo courtesy of Nora Varcho