The WDC was invited to present to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation on its work in developing the Creative Economy. On Tuesday 21 April, the WDC as well as NUI Galway, Teagasc, the Design & Crafts Council of Ireland and TG4 presented on the potential for job creation, innovation and balanced economic development in the creative sector.
The WDC has worked with this sector since 2008. At that time, after the collapse of the building sector and its knock-on impacts across the domestic economy, there was a clear need to identify and support new sources of regional economic growth and job creation. The creative industries sector was in many ways an obvious choice for the region as it is mainly made up of self-employed or micro-enterprises with people quite embedded in their local area. The sector was showing strong growth internationally and could create jobs and contribute to tourism, including in rural areas.
As there was little research in Ireland at the time, the WDC commissioned baseline research (2009) to investigate the size and nature of the region’s creative sector and to identify its key issues. The Creative West (2009) report found that in there were 4,800 businesses in the creative sector in the Western Region, employing 11,000 people and generating €534m in annual turnover, directly contributing €270m to the Gross Value Added of the regional economy. There was limited export activity however with two-thirds not engaged in any exporting. The majority of those in the sector were self-employed with 40% working alone and almost 90% being micro-enterprises.
Quality of life and inspiration from the region’s landscape and culture were among the strongest motivators for creative people to live and work in the Western Region. They faced a number of constraints however that can be addressed by policy and enterprise supports. Chief among these are high bandwidth broadband for creative enterprises operating in rural areas, difficulties in finding and recruiting specific skills, and quite limited networking with others in the sector and wider business community. Creative businesses often do not fit easily into the eligibility criteria for enterprise funding and may find it difficult to access finance.
The report set out a series of recommendations for developing the sector in the region which have formed the basis of the WDC’s activities to support the sector. Under Creative Edge (a €1.2m transnational EU-funded project, 2011-2013) the WDC developed the MyCreativeEdge.eu website to provide an online showcase for creative enterprises, with over 550 now profiled on the site. The new 3-year, €2m Creative Momentum project will further develop new routes to export markets for creative enterprises, as well as providing international networking opportunities with creative enterprises from Northern Ireland, Iceland, Sweden and Finland. The WDC Micro-Loan Fund: Creative Industries provides loans of €5,000-€25,000 to creative enterprises and to date has funded 12 creative enterprises across the Western Region.
Nationally the Action Plan for Jobs identified the creative sector as one of the key sectoral opportunities for economic growth and job creation in Ireland. As the new Action Plan for Jobs – Regional process develops, it is important that the potential of the creative industries to contribute to sustainable job creation and enterprise growth at a regional level be recognised and the sector supported. Under the Creative Edge project the Whitaker Institute at NUI Galway developed the Creative Edge Policy Toolkit which set out a number of recommendations on policy actions that could be taken to support the sector’s growth. This could provide a useful input.
The Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas (CEDRA) has also identified creative industries as a key growth sector for rural economic diversification and recommended the development of a coordinated strategy for the sector that places specific focus on its potential to contribute to the rural economy. Such a coordinated strategy however needs to be worked out through sector-specific policies and actions in the areas of enterprise support, job creation, culture, skills development and regional economic development to make a meaningful contribution.
A full transcript of the discussion at the JOC can be found here