Southern California still best place to get creative By JOEL KOTKIN and CHARLIE STEPHENS
Over the past decade, Southern California has lagged well behind its chief rivals – New York and the Bay Area, as well as the fast-growing cities of the Sun Belt – in everything from job creation to tech growth. Yet, in what the late economist Jack Kyser dubbed “the creative industries,” this region remains an impressive superpower.
By creative industries, we mean not just Hollywood’s film and television complex, which remains foundational, but those serving a host of other lifestyle-oriented activities, from fashion and product design to engineering theme parks, games and food. We may be lagging Silicon Valley in technology and New York in finance or news media, but when it comes to entertaining people, and defining lifestyle, the Southland remains a powerful, even primal, force.
Overall, according to the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., creative industries employ more than 418,000 people in L.A. and Orange counties. This is larger than second-place New York, and more than five times larger than the San Francisco and Seattle regions. Orange County and Los Angeles account for 80 percent of statewide employment in entertainment and fashion. In toys, L.A. and O.C. account for over two-thirds of statewide jobs.
As a whole, visual- and performing-arts providers have done best in percentage terms, growing by 23.8 percent, followed closely by fine arts and performing-arts schools, with 23.2 percent growth. The SoCal creative economy took a big hit during the recession, when overall employment decreased 14.5 percent, compared with 8 percent for all other industries. But recent trends speak to the resiliency of the region’s creative industries. From 2009-14, employment finally began to grow, even as the rest of L.A.’s economy was still shrinking.
As other local industries fade, the creative ones become more important, making up a growing share of the regional economy. New research by Chapman University’s Marshall Toplansky and Nate Kaspi found Orange and Los Angeles counties boast among the highest per capita employment in these creative fields of any major region in the country.
These jobs are also critical to supporting the region’s beleaguered middle class; 63 of the 80 creative occupations in California have annual wages higher than the statewide median of $38,920.
The Inland Empire does less well in these industries, but has a strong presence in such design fields as furniture and decorative arts. The Coachella music festival, taking place in Riverside County every year, is widely seen as the most successful concert venue in the world and a global incubator of lifestyle trends and fashion.
Overall, in most creative industries, we simply crush the nerd culture of the Bay Area. Los Angeles easily leads the nation when it comes to independent artists, writers and performers, with a location quotient eight times the national average, twice the share of New York. If Arby’s has the meats, we have the artists.