By Mary Jordan
Springdale Public Schools
Springdale Public Schools is contributing to Northwest Arkansas’ growing creative economy by preparing students to meet the increasing needs of the region.
“The creative economy is something where our community engages with one another in ways that we possibly haven't even imagined yet,” said Kelley Williamson, Springdale Public Schools career and technical education coordinator. “I think about concerts and parks and ways to bring communities together.”
In 2022, nonprofit arts and culture organizations and their audiences generated $151.7 billion in economic activity — $73.3 billion in spending by the organizations, which leveraged an additional $78.4 billion in event-related spending by their audiences nationally, according to the Arts & Economic Prosperity 6 report released Oct. 12 by Americans for the Arts.
Founded in 1960, Americans for the Arts is based out of Washington, D.C., and is the nation's leading nonprofit organization for advancing the arts and arts education, according to the organization’s website.
The impact of creative economic activity is far reaching, supporting 2.6 million jobs, generating $29.1 billion in tax revenue and providing $101 billion in personal income nationally, according to the report.
Arkansas’ nonprofit arts and culture industries generated about $104.4 million in event-related spending by its audiences in 2022, according to the Creative Arkansas Community Hub and Exchange website. CACHE is operated by the Northwest Arkansas Council and works with creatives, organizations and communities to empower a more-inspiring, inclusive and equitable Northwest Arkansas.
Some $202.1 million in spending by Arkansas nonprofit arts and culture organizations and $104.4 million in event-related spending by their audiences likewise supported about 4,800 jobs and generated $49,377,951 in local, state and federal government revenue in 2022, according to CACHE.
Springdale Public Schools recognizes the value of developing lifelong creators to meet the needs of the region’s growing creative economy, said Rodney Ellis, Springdale Public Schools workforce training director.
“I think we offer a broad variety of opportunities for our students to understand skills that they need, take those skills, implement them, develop them and become a human product that industry and businesses want,” Ellis said.
Recognizing Workforce Needs
Northwest Arkansas’ creative industry needs have evolved and grown, opening doors to employment opportunities for Springdale students and graduates, Williamson said.
“I think our workforce has changed,” she said. “They have such a need for employees, and they're willing to look at who that employee is a little bit differently.”
Ellis said the district is equipping students to fill developing needs in the region’s workforce.
“Skills are what they're looking for, the ability to come in and be a contributing member of a team or an entrepreneurial setting,” he said.
Northwest Arkansas is ripe with creative career opportunities, said Phillip Johnson, former vice president of operations at avad3 Event Production in Lowell.
“Avad3 offers positions at every position for live event production. From entry level roles in our shop, to advanced technical or show management positions, to sales roles,” Johnson said. “This creates a really nice opportunity for folks to work their way up in the organization as they gain more experience and expertise.”
The production company began more than 11 years ago in a small trailer and is now housed in a 10,000-square-foot facility, he said.
“As the area grows, both in size and amenities, more and more organizations choose NWA as the place they want to host their event and show the area off to their attendees,” Johnson said. “Avad3 travels extensively coast-to-coast, and the industry on a national scale is extremely busy. It's a thriving field to be in.”
Filling Employment Gaps
Regional growth fuels a need for qualified employees, according to the NWA Council’s 2022 State of the Northwest Arkansas Region report.
From 2016 to 2021, Northwest Arkansas’ employment grew at an average annual rate of 2.1%, a pace that exceeded that of Arkansas and the United States, but was in the middle of the pack when compared to peer regions, according to the report. Employment in Northwest Arkansas increased 2.8% from 264,600 in 2019 to 272,100 in 2021.
That growth is reflected in the variety of creative job opportunities throughout the region, Elis said.
CACHE listed 2,297 job openings in Northwest Arkansas Oct.18 on its online Arts and Culture Job Board. Indeed, an online employment website, listed 168 creative positions available in Springdale alone that same day.
Notable opportunities included brand ambassadors, print and digital media reporters, marketing representatives, content writers, graphic designers, social media managers, communication directors, project managers, interior designers, 3D designers, event producers, hospitality managers, chefs, web designers and industrial designers.
Springdale Schools works to support those growing employment needs by creating opportunities for elementary to high school students to explore potential future career paths, Ellis said.
The district offers curriculum, credentialing, internships, employment opportunities and real-world exposer in fields such as agriculture, engineering, robotics, computer programming, advertising and graphic design, construction, television production, journalism, culinary arts, welding and more, he said.
“In this growing economy, we need that creative thinking, we need complex problem solving, and the best way, in my opinion, to do that is to offer them opportunities that give them field experience while they're learning in the classroom,” Ellis said.
Johnson said he hired a Springdale graduate right out of high school to work for avad3.
“We've been shocked by his knowledge, aptitude and work ethic,” he said. “He's been such a great addition to the team. I can't wait to watch him grow with experience.”
The goal is to keep the district’s brightest and the best in the region by exposing them local creative career pathways, Ellis said.
“Exposure is just the biggest thing for students at this young age,” Williamson agreed. “They don't know what they don't know, and it's our job to expose them to that.”