Editorial: ‘Music Cities’ initiative fits with broader economic strategy

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The economic-development game is changing, and we’re glad to see the Indy Chamber is staying in tune with the times.

The latest example: the newly rolled out “Music Cities” cultural initiative. This month’s press release put it bluntly: The chamber and the city will work with a consultant and local partners “to develop a music strategy for a more diverse, vibrant cultural scene in Indianapolis.”

This might seem like an odd fit for an economic development organization. Chambers, local and statewide, historically have focused on factors that appeal to business owners, such as low taxes and sound fiscal management—both areas where Indiana and its cities stack up well.

But the reality is that our homegrown companies, or firms based elsewhere that locate here, are only as strong as their workforces. Thousands of firms across the state struggle to find employees, in part because workers increasingly are deciding where to live based on quality of life, rather than where the jobs are.

As Mayor Joe Hogsett said in announcing the music initiative, “Creative communities attract talent, and talent attracts employers and investment.”

The website for the initiative goes further: “Music is inextricably tied to the economies, and brands, of many of our thriving American cities: think Nashville, Seattle, Atlanta, and Austin, to name a few.”

The Indy Chamber will work with London-based Sound Diplomacy to analyze the city’s music assets and develop a three-year strategy.

Obvious strengths to build on include Indiana Avenue and its rich jazz history, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and venues like Fountain Square’s The Hi-Fi.

Lots of details have yet to be worked out, including the project budget. So it’s too early to predict what the initiative will accomplish. Early ideas include developing housing or creative spaces for musicians, developing music venues, or providing grants or incentives to attract concerts.

The ideas aren’t revolutionary, really, but making quality-of-life improvements is an inherently incremental undertaking. Fortunately, this is just one of a barrage of efforts currently afoot in central Indiana that collectively could have a profound impact.

For starters, there is an unprecedented push to spur recreation and other activity along the long-neglected White River, which runs 58 miles through Marion and Hamilton counties.

Then there’s the new Lilly Endowment program that will provide up to $25 million in funding for a competitive grants program it’s launching aimed at bolstering the arts and cultural amenities in Indianapolis.

Those are on top of a broad range of other improvements our community has unleashed since the turn of the century, including the development of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail and the launch of Pacers Bikeshare.

Of course, other communities are making upgrades, too, so this is no time for our region to rest on its laurels.

Fortunately, that’s not the mindset of Indy Chamber CEO Michael Huber, a former Indianapolis deputy mayor who took the helm in 2013. His leadership team continues to play up our region’s strengths. But it’s also acknowledging where we should be better and doing something about it.•


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