It’s a common assumption that big cities are hubs for creativity and innovation. While it’s true that New York City, San Francisco, Austin, and Chicago are world famous for their innovation in the arts–everything from music to gaming to architecture, and from theaters to museums to software design labs–a closer look at rural America reveals that a significant percentage of innovation occurs in rural communities, and it’s comparable to the percentage of innovation happening in large urban areas.
A recent analysis of multiple data sets concerning innovation, including the USDA’s Rural Establishment Innovation Survey, which compares urban and rural businesses, found that most urban businesses can be broken down into three roughly equal groups: substantive innovators, nominal innovators, and non-innovators. The analysis also revealed that the same breakdown occurs in rural areas: rural businesses can be similarly divided into those three groups at only slightly lower percentages. What’s more, the rural businesses tend to have higher rates of innovation in the “nominal” category, and this is attributed to the fact that rural businesses tend to have smaller numbers of employees.
What about Vermont? Vermont’s vibrant creative economy sector is a significant employer: over 37,000 Vermonters work in creative industries and occupations statewide, or 8.6% of the total state workforce. 6.7% of all Vermont businesses are creative enterprises, and there are over 500 creative nonprofit organizations statewide.
Vermont’s creative economy is an interconnected tapestry of artisans, innovators, makers, educators, performers, designers, writers, preservationists, and more working together and individually to enhance the cultural and intellectual landscape of the state. The creative economy they form, as defined by the New England Foundation for the Arts, “is a subset of the overall economy that only includes those industry sectors and occupations with a categorical focus on the ‘production and distribution of cultural goods, services and intellectual property’.”
According to the National Endowment for the Arts, in Vermont the arts added $1B in value to the state economy—3.2% of state GDP—in 2015. This collective economic activity represents the enormous variety of creative opportunity in Vermont—historic preservation and visits to museums, art galleries, and sculpture parks; film and television production; textile and fiber work; gaming software development and metalwork—these smaller industry segments together make a strong economic impact.