Art as the New Steel

Is art the “new steel”, as the saying goes?

In Hamilton, many people argue that the arts will be a primary driver of economic growth in coming years as the city economy shifts away from heavy manufacturing to creative and knowledge industries. With the rapid growth and popularity of arts festivals like last weekend’s Supercrawl on James North, it’s clear that the arts are making a real impact.

In fact, the upcoming Vital Signs 2011 Report notes that 44 percent of Hamiltonians attended a cultural event in 2010, higher than the 39 percent average in other Vital Signs communities.

At the same time, we would be wise not to discount our manufacturing heritage just yet. According to employment data we will be publishing in upcoming upcoming Vital Signs report, employment in the goods-producing sector, which includes manufacturing and construction,  has grown by 5.5 percent in the past three years. In contrast, employment in the service sector grew by 3.9%.

One of the more promising areas is the intersection of knowledge and manufacturing. It’s easy to assume we should jump on the “web startup” bandwagon, but Hamilton has a unique ability to leverage our existing industrial manufacturing capacity into innovative new businesses that make things.

With easy access to the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, Hamilton could become an economic bright light that grows new businesses from the ground up and produces jobs that pay well enough to keep their employees out of the unfortunate ranks of the working poor.

Who knows: one of the 800 startups expected to launch by the end of this year could grow into a major employer. Initiatives like the Lion’s Lair , started by the Chamber of Commerce and Innovation Factory, can help foster the entrepreneurial culture that is necessary to grow lots of new businesses.

In fact, we are so optimistic about the role of investing in building stronger communities that Hamilton Community Foundation has launched a community investing initiative to leverage our capital more directly and proactively.