One area of responsibility Mike Schatz has as economic development director for the city of Eau Claire is to attract businesses to the region and retain those already here.
Among the tools at his disposal is a flourishing arts and culture climate locally that “is more important now than it’s ever been,” Schatz said.
“With the mobility that talented people have to live anywhere and do business anywhere using the Internet, it’s important for a community to have amenities that will make the talented people want to live there,” he said. “Having the arts and music amenities goes a long way to enhancing the quality of life needed to serve that work/life balance that people are seeking.
“Human capital is one of the most important factors in economic development, so communities need to do everything possible to attract them.”
To quantify the influence of the arts, the Eau Claire Regional Arts Council, or ECRAC, has joined the Arts & Economic Prosperity 5, a national study that measures the economic impact of nonprofit arts and culture organizations and their audiences. ECRAC is one of nearly 300 partners nationwide that will collect financial data relating to theater and dance companies, museums, festivals and arts education organizations.
Americans for the Arts is conducting the study for the fifth time in the past 20 years to measure the impact of arts spending on local jobs, incomes and revenue generated by local and state governments.
“Many people don’t think of nonprofit arts organizations as businesses,” Steve Jahn, executive director of the regional economic development organization Momentum West, said in a news release. “But this study will make clear that the arts are a formidable industry in our community — employing people locally, purchasing goods and services from local merchants, and helping to drive tourism and economic development.”
In Eau Claire County during fiscal year 2010, 41 percent of event-related spending by arts and culture attendees came from nonresidents who spent $1.51 million not including admission expenses, according to Linda John, executive director of Visit Eau Claire.
Other studies have shown that those who attend an event spend $24.60 per person beyond the cost of admission. Recent research shows that the region’s five major musical festivals — Country Jam, Country Fest, Rock Fest, Eaux Claires and Blue Ox — account for 11 percent of the total annual visitor spending in Eau Claire, Chippewa and Dunn counties.
“The arts are extremely important in both attracting visitors and accelerating their spending once they are in a destination,” John said.
“Now that the economy is bouncing back, businesses take factors like quality of life into account when looking at locations to expand or relocate to,” added Luke Hanson, executive director of the Eau Claire Area Economic Development Corp. “Many locations offer incentives that will help with the cost of the overall project, but Eau Claire has an edge due to our quality of life in the area — and this is in combination with our low cost of living, culture and community activeness.”
ECRAC will collect surveys from attendees at arts events throughout 2016. The short, anonymous questionnaires will ask how much money they spent on meals, parking, transportation and retail shopping. Results of the survey will be released in June 2017.
Future studies may prove even more favorable for Eau Claire, as entertainment venues are added and cultural events continue to grow.
“There has been increasing interest from people considering living in Eau Claire, which we see from the hits we receive in the housing section of our website,” Schatz said. “There has also been increased recognition nationally as Eau Claire gets noticed for its music festivals and community support for the (Confluence Project performing arts center).”