By Jim Speirs, Executive Director, Arts South Dakota
Many people today mistakenly believe that urban areas are innovative and rural areas are not. While a relatively small number of major metropolitan areas do attract and foster innovation and creativity, recent research shows that rural areas are also attracting innovation and creativity—and that the arts play a major part in nurturing innovative rural businesses.
A series of studies from research professionals at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service has spotlighted the sources of rural innovation. They used a variety of data sets, including the Rural Establishment Innovation Survey, a large-scale survey that compares innovation in over 11,000 business establishments in rural and urban areas. The businesses studied had at least five paid employees and produced goods and services that are or could be traded internationally.
The survey found that the arts may be even more important to rural innovation than they are to urban innovation. According to research by the National Endowment for the Arts, probability that a rural firm will be a substantive innovator rises from 60 percent in rural counties with no performing arts organizations, to nearly 70 percent for those that have two or three, to as high as 85 percent if a rural county has four or more performing arts organizations.
Furthermore, the share of firms that are highly innovative rises sharply alongside performing arts organizations in rural areas. The probability that a rural business will be highly innovative increases from 17 percent to 44 percent as the number of performing arts organizations in a rural county increases from zero to one. When that number rises to two, the probability that a business will be highly innovative grows to 70 percent or higher.
The analysis found a strong statistical association between the arts, innovation and economic dynamism in rural areas. This led the researchers to conclude that the arts are a direct force in rural innovation, not just an indirect factor that helps to attract and retain talent. Our experience here in our state strongly supports this conclusion. The arts in South Dakota truly are part of the fabric of our lives—and our businesses!