Casting Call for Houston's Creative Economy

Photo by Shelby Knowles

Houston is one of the largest and fastest-growing final markets for creative industry services in the U.S. The city’s population growth since 2010 outpaced all U.S. metropolitan areas. It has been so rapid that local demand for creative industry services of all kinds has outstripped demand, leading to a $15.1 billion shortfall. That’s the amount of professional services purchased annually outside of Houston. This fact has profound implications for local businesses and professionals providing art, performance and design services to the city’s business, institutional, leisure and government sectors.

Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city, has been ranked the most diverse metropolitan area in the nation, supplanting both New York and Los Angeles in the number, variety and size of ethnic communities that call it home. It hosts not only world-class companies in all of the performing arts, but has more Fortune 500 headquarters than any city other than New York. It has both the largest medical center in the world and the nation’s largest foreign trade port, which by itself accounts for 16 percent of Texas’ gross state product. Houston consistently ranks as one of the most affordable cities, and has a well-earned reputation for having some of this nation’s finest and least expensive food scenes. It is always at or near the top of the list of destination cities for U-Haul truck rentals.

In 2011, the Houston Arts Alliance, the University of Houston and the Greater Houston Partnership commissioned a study to determine the size, scale and economic impact of what was dubbed the ‘creative economy’ — the amount of goods and services produced annually by the city’s creative professionals and support personnel. The report, “The Creative Economy of Houston,” revealed that the local creative economy produced $21.93 billion in gross  sales, of which $10.7 billion was produced and sold locally, $1.4 billion was exported and $9.76 billion was imported. This report was updated in 2015, and found that while gross creative economy sales had increased to $25.6 billion (up 22 percent from 2011), the local/import shortfall had increased to $15.1 billion (up 55 percent from 2011). No one expected this.

A phenomenal opportunity exists for creative economy professionals in Houston. The city generates upwards of $25 billion in demand for creative goods and services, while delivering only 40 percent of that amount, or $10.5 billion. This means that local providers of goods and services have an actual un-met market of $15 billion of existing business that is theirs for the taking, if they have the skill, tenacity and resources to compete for it. There are precious few places in the world where such market conditions exist in any industry, never mind a high quality-of-life and prolific multiplier like the creative economy.

Houston is a remarkable city in many respects, but none so striking as the wide-open terrain of available opportunity for creative industry professionals of all kinds over the next fifty years. It is truly a great time to be creative professional in the state of Texas.

William Lanigan