When we think of independent, locally owned businesses, a lot of images come to mind. We think of the local coffee shop like Toasted Owl cafe, or a jeweler like Gold Wolff Jewelers, or a place like Brandy’s Restaurant. We think of the people we know who run their own business right here in Flagstaff. We also know that our local businesses keep more money in our community and have an enormous economic impact.
It’s not often, though, that we factor in our non-profit organizations when we consider our independent, locally owned businesses. We should. After all, local volunteers who live and work locally serve on the boards of directors that govern non-profits. Non-profits tend to be formed by people in a community who wish to address a need or improve their hometown or region, without interest in financial gain. That kind of attitude epitomizes the concept of “local.”
It’s also not often that we factor in the economic impact of those non-profit businesses. It’s right there in the name: “non-profit” tells us that it’s not about the money, but rather about the mission of the organization. So, while we do hear that non-profits need donations to do their work, we rarely consider their economic value to our community. Thanks in part to a recent economic impact study produced by Flagstaff Cultural Partners, we now know the exact economic value of part (not all) of the non-profit sector.
The study measured the overall impact of the non-profit arts and sciences sector at $73 million annually. That figure represents the combined budgets of 37 local non-profit arts and science non-profits, plus the spending of their audiences in the community. Audience spending is an important factor in figuring the economic impact of the arts sector.
Every kind of business has an economic impact. There are probably a few that have a larger impact than $73 million. But the arts and sciences sector is different. The events and attractions in the arts sector bring people to our community and encourage locals to spend a night on the town. And that’s where a whole lot of spending happens.
Out-of-town audiences, when attending arts events in Flagstaff, pump $22.8 million into the local economy each year. They book a hotel, get some gas, perhaps grab a bite to eat at Altitude’s Bar & Grill, and maybe stroll downtown and step into West of the Moon Gallery. More than half – 53 percent – of those audiences said that attending an arts or science event or attraction was the primary reason for their visit to Flagstaff, so this local spending is a direct result of the arts. These numbers are based on 1,332 audience intercept surveys conducted at arts and science events and attractions over the course of a full year in 2011.
Of course, local audiences spend, too. When attending arts events, they go out on the town, have dinner, buy a few drinks and head home. Some pay for a babysitter or purchase gas for the drive. Some go downtown and do some shopping before or after an event. All of this adds up to another $12.3 million in annual spending in the local economy.
Any time we head out to attend an event at one of our fine non-profit arts and science organizations in Flagstaff, there is a similar impact. We often don’t give it a thought. We are simply happy that our little mountain town has amazing events like last month’s Flagstaff Mountain Film Festival. We go with friends or take a date and catch a movie or two; it’s part of the culture of our community. We are grateful for the people who work so hard to bring us that event. We go see Theatrikos Theatre Company’s latest show, and there’s something special about seeing local talent on stage. These programs enrich our lives, make our community better, and provide unique artistic experiences. That’s their mission, and that’s why we love them.
Let’s not forget, though, that their impact goes one big step further by contributing to a strong local economy. Truly, the arts mean business.
By John Tannous, Executive Director of the Flagstaff Arts Council. Originally published in Flagstaff Business News, November 2013.
Figures used in this article are from Arts & Economic Prosperity: the Impact of the Non-profit Arts in Flagstaff, Arizona.