Buffalo has a very valuable and unique economic asset. It's a home-grown, clean industry that brands our region, provides thousands of jobs and attracts even more jobs and dollars to the local economy.

Buffalo has art.

Once again, Buffalo has been identified as a leading arts destination by American Style magazine. In fact, local economic development professionals are creating an economic strategy recognizing cultural tourism as one of three areas having the greatest potential for regional growth.

"Buffalo has a tremendous variety of arts and cultural organizations. We should take advantage of this opportunity to promote cultural tourism in our region," says Richard Tobe, Buffalo's commissioner of economic development, permit and inspection services.

There are, however, other ways that the arts contribute to economic development. Many cities have realized that artists, and the arts, have a tangible economic impact beyond cultural tourism.

Paducah, Ky., for example, actively recruits artists. By offering them incentives such as 100 percent financing for real estate; a loan package for up to 300 percent of a property's appraised value, and free lots for new construction, Paducah aggressively markets its Artist Relocation Program nationwide.

In the Artist Relocation Program's target area in an Enterprise Zone, all materials for rehabilitation or new construction are tax-exempt. The area is also zoned to enable artists to have gallery, studio and living space all under one roof. In short, organizers covered all the angles to create a list of incentives designed to draw artists.

So far, 79 artists from around the country have relocated there, and the program has increased development and investment in the targeted area.

Buffalo already has what Paducah and other cities are scrambling - and paying - to build. It has rich, diverse and accessible arts and cultural assets. Unfortunately, we are risking the very infrastructure that supports these assets. That infrastructure is weakened when public and private leaders fail to support arts funding as an investment in economic development.

If economic development officials were told that an existing industry, which "brands" Buffalo nationally and internationally, were losing ground competitively because of a lack of infrastructure, those officials would, of course, fund and build roads, water and utility connections, and throw in tax incentives as well. Yet, the same people fail to understand that cutting funding for the arts weakens the infrastructure supporting an industry that also creates jobs.

Art a growth industry

Americans for the Arts, a national arts advocacy organization, ranked Buffalo's 28th congressional district 14th in the nation in the number of arts-related jobs, with 19,163 in all. According to this 2005 study, the only other New York districts in the top 15 are Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn. New York as a whole has the highest number of arts-related jobs in the country - with 220,432 in those districts - and this job-producing statewide industry grew by 5 percent between 2004 and 2005.

This study included arts-related jobs in for-profit film, architecture and advertising companies, as well as artists and performers, nonprofit organizations, museums, symphonies and theaters. It did not count other arts-related jobs such as lighting design, space planning, Web site design, multimedia information presentations, graphic arts and product design.

This year, the Arts Council of Buffalo and Erie County, along with Erie and Niagara counties, is working with Americans for the Arts to determine the economic impact of nonprofit arts organizations in the two counties.

"We are collecting information from more than 200 local nonprofit arts-related institutions in Erie and Niagara counties," says Celeste Lawson, the Arts Council executive director. "The information will go into a database developed by Americans for the Arts. A team of economists and other professionals from Georgia Institute of Technology will review and report on the data collected to give us an unbiased evaluation of the economic impact of local nonprofit arts institutions," she added.

Lawson believes the study and independent economic analysis will support the council's advocacy efforts.

A previous study estimated that approximately 2,500 jobs were created and maintained by the arts and cultural organizations in and around Buffalo. However, as funding for the arts disappeared, arts and cultural organizations cut costs by laying off staff. The new study will determine how many jobs have been lost, but Buffalo is clearly in danger of losing ground as a leader in this growth industry.

Has what world wants

Economic development is not only about jobs. It also means the development and production of exportable goods and services to bring new dollars into the local economy. In the past, the region produced steel and industrial products. The dollars brought in were spent on local businesses, housing and sharing the costs of schools, police and fire protection.

Our exportable products then were easy to see and touch. Their value was easy to measure. But the world has changed. Now we need to produce and export creative, novel and useful goods and services for a global marketplace looking for these products.

Buffalo's "creative class" and relatively low cost of production mean it can successfully compete in the global marketplace.

A good example of how the region's strong arts community, low cost of living and proximity to big (and expensive) cities can be combined to bring new dollars into the local economy is an innovative venture at the CEPA Gallery.

CEPA is a not-for-profit arts center founded in 1974 to serve "as a resource for photographic creation, education and presentation." To meet its mission, CEPA has the equipment and capacity to produce high-quality, large-scale photographic prints and reprints.

CEPA Executive Director Lawrence Brose discovered that a New York City gallery was looking for a less-expensive way to print photographs. CEPA bid on the project. That bid was 40 percent below the cost of a competing commercial printer, and CEPA got the work. Brose now markets CEPA's services to other gallery owners in New York City.

"We can do this kind of work; we're set up for it. We looked at the specialty we have and turned it into a service," Brose said. In other words, CEPA exports a service, specialty printing, that brings new dollars from downstate into the local economy.

Brose also represents another kind of exportable "product." He received a grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation that allowed him to travel to Australia to talk about CEPA's innovative artist-in-residence program. In similar ways, artists and nonprofit arts and cultural organizations bring many, many thousands of private, state and federal dollars into the local economy.

Their reputations and expertise are exportable "products" that bring in outside dollars. These new dollars support jobs and buy goods and services throughout the local economy, just as manufacturing dollars did in the past, if not to the same extent.

Buffalo arts are cool
There is another benefit to a strong arts and cultural community. Richard Florida, author of "The Rise of the Creative Class," cited the role of creativity and innovation in the new knowledge economy. He described a global marketplace where new technology, innovation and creative solutions will be the products consumers demand, and will pay for.

The creative class of workers who can supply that need are attracted to diverse and accepting communities. They value a quality of life supported by healthy and visible art and cultural assets.

Place becomes more and less important in a world where many can and do tele-commute; where classes, conferences and seminars can be video-conferenced; where documents can be e-mailed anywhere in the world; where modern transportation systems can easily move goods from one place to another, and where products are just as likely to be creative ideas as they are to be widgets.

Knowledge workers do not need to migrate to jobs, because jobs can come to them, wherever they are. What these workers need and will demand are communities that provide them with a high quality of life, a low cost of living, arts and culture and a diverse and accepting community.

A 2004 study, "Economic Growth With Style," by the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning, offered insights into art's economic power.

"In "The Role of the Arts in Economic Development,' the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices asserts that cities must be able to attract a young, educated and creative workforce if they are to remain competitive in the new economy.

"These workers are characterized as "highly mobile knowledge workers' whose location preferences are tied to "quality of place' above all other factors, including job market conditions."

And it keeps going. As this creative class migrates to welcoming communities, they attract even more employers and consumers seeking new technologies and products, as well as innovative and creative ways to compete in an increasingly global economy.

Bryant Tyson is the founder and CEO of WebTY, a Web design business. The majority of his clients are not in Western New York, but he started his business in Buffalo because of the promise of its creative community. "The foundation here is solid, with a wellspring of potential employees that are being trained in the fine arts, graphic design and other key skills that are vital to our business. Without that human capital, we wouldn't be as highly competitive as we are," he says.

"On the flip side, we have a number of clients who are creatives as well, so we're surrounded by creativity on a daily basis. This constantly challenges and motivates us to stay on top of our game."

As an example, Tyson points to a local client. Light-Makers, on Elmwood Avenue, which sells lighting designs and products throughout the United States. "I'm consistently amazed by their lighting designs, and each time I see one, I'm motivated to push the boundaries of our Web design in a uniquely different way. It's a cyclical creative life-cycle, and you can only really find an environment like that here in Buffalo. Makes me glad I'm here."

Light-Makers owner Roy Laciura agrees. In fact, two of his recent clients, each relocating from outside the state, have been amazed at the vibrancy and quality of Buffalo Niagara's arts and cultural assets.

Tyson's reasons for keeping his business here are the same reasons so many individuals also value living in Buffalo.

"People don't live here for the Sabres and the Bills," says Eva Hassett, former City of Buffalo commissioner of finance. "The presence of an arts/cultural/creative community gives those of us who do not make our living as artists the opportunity to be more in touch with our creativity. As a worker and as a person, I am much happier. Buffalo's ability to provide this quality of life is very significant to our economic development."

Art promotes development

There is one more way that the arts and culture support economic development. ArtSpace, a non-profit development company from Minneapolis, is developing artist live/work space in a former industrial building at 1219 Main St. Each of ArtSpace's projects in other cities sparked investment and development in neighborhoods that, until then, had received little of either.

The city and ArtSpace deliberately chose a Main Street building near a deteriorating neighborhood to develop live/work space for artists.

"The 60-plus artists and their families will bring 24/7 activity to the area and become a new hub for the arts in Buffalo," according to Wendy Holmes, ArtSpace vice president for resource development.

"Combined with the gallery/nonprofit arts spaces on the ground floor, this area along Main Street will be teeming with arts activity."

One of the reasons ArtSpace was attracted to Buffalo is the rich arts and culture community here.

Art is an investment in Buffalo's future.

Cultural tourism is dependent on attractions to promote, and investing in them as part of an economic development strategy certainly makes sense. But we must also recognize, support and leverage the unique economic advantages presented by Buffalo's rich and diversearts and cultural community.

This is a race Buffalo can win, because we start out so much further ahead than other cities that are just recently recognizing the advantages of investing in the arts. This is a race that Buffalo should not lose because of short-sighted leadership, both public and private, which ignores and starves one of our richest resources. Buffalo has art.

Barbra Kavanaugh is a lawyer and former member of the Buffalo Common Council.