The Houston regional creative economy is a sleeping giant – a $26 billion industry that has grown by 18% since 2004 and employs nearly 180,000 highly skilled workers.
First measured in 2011 and reported in 2012, Houston’s creative economy has long been under-recognized. In a city of behemoth industry sectors such as energy, medicine and international trade, the creative businesses have traditionally not registered among the most impactful component of the overall economy.
As Houston managed to isolate its economy from the worst of the national downturn of 2008 primarily due to a robust energy sector, in 2014 the world saw oil prices drop swiftly from more than $100 a barrel to less than $50 a barrel. Already a more diverse economy than in the past, the 2014 slide reminded Houston that only a truly complex economy is sustainable.
So where does the creative sector fit in? Creative businesses – advertising, film/video production, writing and editorial, etc. – are critical, elemental components of traditional business. An oil and gas company needs all of this expertise and can choose to hire those services in-house, contract locally, or import the expert services from outside the region. The greatest area of growth since Houston’s creative economy was measured in 2011 has been creatives working in non-creative industries.
As Houston continues to grow at a pace among the fastest of American cities, creative businesses from architecture to textile design and fabrication are tapped. Today, nearly 60% of the creative industries product is imported into Houston. That is up from 45% creative import in 2011.
As Houston’s creative appetite outpaces local capacity, Houston has a choice. We can recognize creative business and creative talent as a critical element of a globally competitive city, and invest in the success of the sector right here at home, or we continue to import the talent, goods and services.
The decision is a matter of talent retention and simple math. Houston’s universities graduate creatives at a rapid rate, but are we employing the talent here at home, or are we losing them to more creative-identified cities? Are we adequately investing in start-up creative businesses? Are we incubating our best and brightest? And what is the cost to the local economy when we pass on investing in local entrepreneurs and businesses by importing at a more rapid rate?