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By Ken Custer

What do Graphic Designers, Ad Agencies, Printers, Film Producers, Craft Brewers, Architects, Radio and TV Stations and all have in common?
They are all part of Colorado's Creative Economy.

On July 1, 2010, Colorado will have a new Creative Industry Division in the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade. In a bill passed by the state legislators, the Colorado Council on the Arts, The Colorado Office of Film, Television & Media and the Colorado's Art in Public Places offices will be combined to pool resources and promote the creative industry in Colorado.

The Colorado Council on the Arts released a study “Colorado: State-of-the-Art, Key Findings from The State of Colorado's Creative Economy” which shows that 186,251 jobs in the state are associated with creative enterprises and creative occupations. The creative enterprises alone employed over 122,000 individuals in 8,000 establishments. This accounts for 3.9% of the state's estimated 3.2 million jobs, making it Colorado's 5th largest employment sector, almost as large as biotechnology/biomedical and IT& telecommunications, and larger than defense & security and agribusiness, food processing & technology. Employee earnings in these jobs, including employee benefits, were about $5 billion. Another 64,000 individuals worked in creative occupations in non-creative enterprises.

“This research clearly demonstrates that the creative sector is a large and important sector of Colorado's economy,” said Colorado Lt. Governor, Barbara O'Brien. “Our next step is to more fully understand the challenges in each industry sub-group and identify areas of opportunity.”

Colorado is a magnet for creative talent, ranking 5th among all states for concentration of creative occupations. Only New York, California, Massachusetts and Vermont have a higher concentration of creative talent. Colorado ranks 2nd in concentration of architects, 7th in concentration of writers, designers, entertainers and performers, and 8th in concentration of photographers.

Defining the creative community

To better understand the nature of the creative economy in Colorado, enterprises in the creative economy were categorized within the six sub-groups that are described below.
  • Design is product and environmental design sectors that apply artistic content tcommercial products, services, and the environment whose markets depend on that artistic input. The artistic content of architectural drawings, landscapes, advertising, websites, office and home interiors, and some (but by nmeans all) manufactured products influences customers and determines commercial success.
  • Film and media cover the technical and distributive elements of Colorado's entertainment sectors, including firms that provide the technical production support systems, such as sound, lighting, digital art, animation, and sets and studios, broadcasting, and distribution channels via motion picture, video, and music production companies, radio, cable, and Internet, and motion picture theatres.
  • Heritage includes Colorado's historical sites, museums, and botanical gardens.
  • Literary and publishing includes at its core the state's authors, poets, and writers, but alsthe editors, publishers, and printers that reproduce the text, and the libraries, bookstores, and newsstands that make them available tthe public.
  • Performing arts is composed of actors, musicians, promoters, producers, and directors and the venues at which they perform.
  • Visual arts and crafts is the group most closely associated with the creative economy, the sketchers, painters, photographers, sculptors, potters, glassblowers, metal artists, jewelers, paper artists, carvers, and other artisans whcreate products as well as the shops and galleries that show and sell them.

Taking it to the next step

After the “State-of-the-Art” survey came out, a panel of over 60 creative industry leaders representing all phases of the creative economy was formed to determine recommendations for the future of the creative economy. Lt. Governor O'Brien directed the panel to look for practical ways to develop the workforce and prepare students so that at the end of the economic downturn, there is a plan for success. The panel was asked to recommend specific strategies that would increase the number of businesses and jobs in the creative sector. The panel developed a vision statement to describe what Colorado will look like when recognized nationally and internationally as a premiere creative economy:

By leveraging our unique lifestyle and entrepreneurial spirit, Colorado cultivates a creative workforce and attracts and fosters clean and sustainable creative enterprises, resulting in job growth, a stronger tax base, improved cultural awareness, and an outstanding quality of life for our residents.

The panel recommended six strategies that must be pursued to achieve the vision:
#1 - Existing business financing and support mechanisms must be made more accessible to creative businesses to help them start-up or grow, and to recruit new creative businesses to the state.
#2 - New economic development policies and funding source must be developed at the local and state levels to provide support for both nonprofit and commercial creative businesses and artists-entrepreneurs.
#3 - New and improved networking and professional development opportunities must be developed to encourage and support creative enterprises and creative workers.
#4 - Improve and expand the promotion of Colorado's creative businesses and creative destinations, raising visibility for the sector within the state as well as nationally and internationally.
#5 - The P-20 educational system must take an active role in preparing creative workers and creative entrepreneurs.
#6 -Stakeholders from the creative sector must develop a “call to action” that advocates for policies and programs to grow the creative economy.

What does this mean to the advertising, film/video and creative community?

The government entities in Colorado have always appreciated, recognized and supported the creative community. Now, for the first time, it is part of the Department of Economic Development and has the opportunity to be promoted and become part of the state's overall economic growth. The legislature in Colorado has never been known for subsidizing private enterprise and, given the current economic conditions that will probably never change. Though some incentives were allocated to support companies that come to Colorado to film, the efforts don't even begin to compete with what many other states are offering to get this lucrative business. What this new Creative Industries Department does is provide the opportunity for a public/private entity to work together and promote the creative economy.

Other industries such as alternative energy and oil and gas have come together to work with state agencies and to lobby for rulings to benefit their industries. The creative community can to do the same.

Other states are also in the process of forming similar Creative Industry Departments that will make competition for attracting new business even more difficult. The new Creative Industry Division will have access to studies, facts and figures that the private sector can use to promote the business and be more competitive with the other states. The Creative Industry Division is in the process of writing grants to funds such as the Rockefeller Foundation to support and promote the education and use of arts, which in the long run will provide a better base of creatives entering the advertising, video production and entertainment fields.

With the Creative Industry Department acting as the clearing-house and the creative professionals providing the expertise and elbow grease to create an integrated message about the great creative available in Colorado, the industry becomes a big part of the pitch to bring new business into the state.

So, what can we as creative individuals and companies do?

First and most importantly, work together. All of the advertising and marketing related organizations should pool efforts to sell the creative possibilities in Colorado. Such things as everyone using the same theme in any correspondence that promotes the organization outside the state. Such a tag line might be something like “(organization name) where creativity comes to life.”

As individuals, it is good business to be involved in several organizations, especially the one that supports your direct interest whether it's direct marketing, graphics or media. A marketing networking guru told a group that the most business she got was by joining organizations that had nothing to do with marketing. She became the only marketer there, and once everyone knew her, she became the expert. This can also happen in the creative community. Join the local Chamber of Commerce, get involved then help guide their creative efforts. The Chamber is pitching new business to move to the area. Part of the pitch should be the availability of creative services as a big asset in moving their business to the community.

For the first time, the state is providing a resource for the creative community to grow. It behooves us all to work with the new Creative Industry Division to enhance the creative economy and therefore ourselves.

Members of the Creative Industry Division are more than happy to speak with your group and explain further the advantages of working with the new state division. For more information, contact Elaine Mariner, currently Executive Director of the Colorado Council on the Arts, at 303-892-3870 or email

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