Report: Creative economy contributes nearly $120 billion to Washington state GDP

Commerce study outlines priorities, strategies to grow creative sector which represents nearly 20% of total state economic production

OLYMPIA, WA – The creative sector accounts for nearly 20% of Washington state’s economy, contributing nearly $120 billion annually to the state GDP, according to a report released today from the Washington State Department of Commerce. The report, produced with the assistance of the Creative Economy Strategic Work Group and lead contractor Western States Arts Federation (WESTAF), provides a strategic pathway for future growth of this key industry sector.

Read the full Creative Economy Strategy online. The study was requested by the 2021-22 State Legislature

“This study confirms that Washington state is a world leader in creative sector jobs,” said Commerce Director Mike Fong. “Innovation is a key driver of our economy, and this sector enriches the arts and cultures of our communities as well as technological advances, from artificial intelligence and quantum computing to new methods for producing clean energy.”

Fong said the results of this study will help guide the future growth of Washington’s creative economy, noting the work group findings align with the state’s commitment to ensuring that economic growth across the state is diverse, equitable, and inclusive.

In its findings, the workgroup reported that the creative sector contributes $119.2 billion to the state’s gross domestic product (GDP), which is 19.6% of Washington’s total economic production.

The study was produced by 34 creative economy stakeholders with input from more than 400 industry representatives. It shows that the creative sector employed 383,001 workers in 2021, which accounted for 9% of total employment. While the majority of the industry is located in urban centers, creative economy jobs can be found in every corner of the state.

In determining a strategy for future growth, the study identified four priorities:

  • Equity and access: Build a more inclusive, just, and equitable creative economy in Washington.
  • Infrastructure and investment: Leverage resources to build the capacity of the creative economy in support of its sustainability.
  • Learning and skills: Activate long-term growth of Washington’s creative economy by investing in the future workforce.
  • Sector and workforce development: Strengthen Washington’s creative economy by investing in its most critical resource – the creativity and talent of its people.

To support these goals, the workgroup identified 11 interrelated policy areas along with initial recommendations:

  1. Broadband: Increase broadband access.
  2. Housing: Develop creative housing plans and artist live/work spaces.
  3. Taxation: Abate/reduce business taxes for small creative businesses.
  4. Incentives: Increase funding and focus on incentives; increase utilization of historic and new market tax credits.
  5. Licenses: Expand access to licenses; introduce social equity programs for licenses.
  6. Zoning/Land Use: Leverage zoning in support of affordable, multi-unit housing and storefronts/creative space.
  7. Public Development Authorities: Expand/increase the number of Public Development Authorities.
  8. Creative Districts: Expand creative districts programs and add incentives; invest in sporting and entertainment districts; consider intersection with Opportunity Zones 4.
  9. Workforce Boards: Activate creative firms to utilize workforce boards to address industry skill/labor force needs.
  10. Apprenticeships/Learn and Earn: Establish state and federally-funded creative apprenticeship programs and other “learn and earn” opportunities.
  11. Grants and Financing: Utilize Community Economic Revitalization Board grants and loans to build supportive infrastructure. Additionally, stakeholders identified a number of barriers to the development of the creative economy.

“The Creative Economy Strategic Plan is important to me, as a Native entrepreneur, because my voice was heard. The thought and detailed actions to implement a plan that is inclusive is something that the world leader in creative-sector jobs, Washington state, is paving the way for all others. This plan has outlined barriers in order to be inclusive, recognizing the imbalance of current structures and redirecting equitable funding and support,” said work group member Mary Big Bull-Lewis, co-owner of Wenatchi Wear and R Digital Design, and chair of Indigenous Roots and Reparations Foundation in Wenatchee.

Creative technology accounted for the most significant number of jobs in the state (59%), which includes careers in the information and communications field. During the study period, the creative technology sector experienced exponential growth (130%), though some growth could be attributed to the shifting needs of the pandemic. Music, theater, dance and visual arts employed 50,474 individuals (13%). Fashion; film, television and radio; and cultural institutions were the three smallest positive-growth contributors to creative economy employment.

Learn more about all of Washington’s key industry sectors on the Commerce website.


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