Opening Up

Economic Inspiration: Eau Claire and Creative Economy Week

Tom Giffey, photos by Lee Butterworth |

PRINTING MONEY? Ambient Inks is one of scores of businesses powering the Valley’s creative economy.
PRINTING MONEY? Ambient Inks is one of scores of businesses powering the Valley’s creative economy.

Economic development in a place like the Chippewa Valley used to be pretty straightforward. Luring large (typically industrial) employers was a matter of connecting them with cheap land, tax incentives, and the like. Workers were a secondary consideration; they were widgets to fill the jobs as needed.

In the 21st century, things have changed, and communities like Eau Claire have woken up to the fact that the future of our economies hinges just as much – probably even more – on attracting workers as on drawing employers. “Many of our economic development efforts aren’t just with businesses – they’re about getting people here,” explains Mike Schatz, economic development administrator for the city of Eau Claire. A major component of this approach is enhancing the city’s quality of life, both through providing creative activities for residents to do in their free time and also fostering creative employers.

Eau Clare is one of a number of Wisconsin communities that is getting on board with the inaugural Creative Economy Week, which will run April 24-29. The week is the brainchild of Arts Wisconsin, a statewide arts advocacy group based in Madison, and the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, which represents cities and villages across the state. The week was established to highlight the major impact the arts have on our lives – and our pocketbooks.

So what exactly is the creative economy? Arts Wisconsin defines it as “the intersection of the creative workforce, creative industries, and creative communities.” And the creative economy is a bigger swathe of the entire economy than you might think. The arts encompasses everything from nonprofit museums and symphonies to for-profit photography, architecture, and graphic design businesses. The advocacy group Americans for the Arts estimates that Wisconsin is home to nearly 10,000 arts-based businesses employing more than 42,000 people. Nonprofit arts groups alone were estimated to have a $535 million impact on the state’s economy in a 2010 study.

Eau Claire City Council President Kerry Kincaid will issue a proclamation on Tuesday, April 26, declaring Creative Economy Week in the city. She said city officials have heard a lot about – and focused a create deal on – the creative class in the past decade. “Eau Claire is perfectly poised to respond to this generation of workers,” she said. “As one can see, we have already invested in our downtown,” she added, pointing to the creation of Phoenix Park a decade ago as a critical first step. Since then, the city’s public and private sectors have worked on revitalizing Barstow Street, planning the Confluence Project, and more.

“We are responding to a labor demand that is coming our way,”  Kincaid added. “We’re showing leadership and forethought, but we’re not making this up. It’s how we’re going to attract workers.”

Schatz and his staff have assembled a series of events that will be branded as part of Creative Economy Week (see sidebar). In a place like the Chippewa Valley, the list could go on and on.

“We should be recognizing that is something special that our economy has,” Schatz said of the profusion of creativity in our community.

To learn more about Creative Economy Week, visit and follow the links.


Sunday, April 24

• 59th Annual Juried Student Art Show (Foster Gallery, Haas Fine Arts Center, UW-Eau Claire)
• UWEC Theatre Present: Roustabout: The Great Circus Trainwreck! (Riverside Theatre Haas Fine Arts Building, UW-Eau Claire)

Monday April 25

• Gallery Exhibition: “Ghosts” by Ashley Harrington (Volume One Gallery)
• In Celebration of Color Art Showing and Sale (Acoustic Café, Eau Claire)

Tuesday, April 26

• Proclamation of Creative Economy Week (Eau Claire City Council, City Hall)

Wednesday, April 27

• Celebration of Excellence in Research and Creative Activity (CERCA) (Davies Center, UW-Eau Claire)
• Wine & Whimsy (Eau Claire Regional Arts Center)
• Creative Economy Reception at Forage in Banbury Place (5pm)

Thursday, April 28

• Award-winning author Nickolas Butler Talk (Volume One Gallery)
• The Great Hair Ball – Style & Sound (The Lismore)

Friday, April 29

• UWEC Concert: Wind Symphony (Gantner Concert Hall, Haas Fine Arts Center, UW-Eau Claire)
• Fifth Element: The Musical (Riverside Theater, Haas Fine Arts Center, UW-Eau Claire)