Music could be key to retaining youth, says economic development CEO

Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Windsor Star/Grace Macaluso

In a bid to tackle youth unemployment, local economic development officials are looking to harness the region’s musical talent.

“We have a high level of youth unemployment, and music is a sector that can develop not just artists but technical jobs, such as sound engineers as well as stage and lighting technicians,” Rakesh Naidu, interim CEO of the WindsorEssex Economic Development Corporation, said Wednesday.

“We’re very good in technical industries, no matter what it is. I think that is really natural for us to develop,” Naidu said following the monthly board meeting of the development corporation.

“We want to identify opportunities in the music industry,”

The Windsor area’s jobless rate last month for those aged 15-24 stood at 16.8 per cent — almost double the local average of 7.7 per cent, according to Statistics Canada.

While municipal officials have traditionally focused on such sectors as manufacturing and agriculture to generate jobs and investment, culture has often been overlooked as an economic development driver.

“We know we have to diversify the economy,” said Michelle Le Chien, executive director of the Arts Council of Windsor and Region. “The creative industry is something that we can see increasing in the future. There’s so many tentacles that affect so many different businesses.”

In partnership with Toronto-based Canadian Music Incubator, the region will host a “boot camp” for musical artists and managers June 25-26, said Naidu.

The boot camp stems from a music industry roundtable held last month that focused on developing a music industry strategy for Windsor-Essex, he said. The roundtable drew representatives from the music sector, including CMI, artists, University of Windsor, the arts council, radio personalities and venue owners.

The meeting found that the region has a “developing music industry, but it needs more help and support,” said Naidu. A key advantage, he added, is Windsor’s proximity to Detroit. “We also have Detroit next door with a good music industry that has mushroomed, so we want to leverage that, and see how Windsor-Essex and the Detroit region can work together and create an industry that can create job opportunities for our youth.”

While the music boot çamp is designed to help musicians and agents launch careers, it will also help develop a strategy to turn Windsor-Essex into a music-friendly region, said Naidu.

Ward 3 Coun. Rino Bortolin praised the music industry initiative. “I love it. I think it’s a great approach,” he said.

Artists are natural entrepreneurs and, given support, will boost economic growth, said Bortolin. “Entrepreneurship isn’t just the tech sector. A guy who is a self-sustaining musician has to market himself for gigs and manage his own money.”

Arts and culture need government intervention and funding support to flourish, he added. “Windsor’s support for the arts has been subpar. We as a municipality have to be prepared to support it through grants and investments in infrastructure.

“If you go to the Phog Lounge during open mic, you see people struggling along as working artists. With a little bit of investment, you will see those seats and underground entrepreneurship blossom into a bigger industry.”

Grand Rapids, Mich., is reaping the benefits of investing in its culture sector as a way of diversifying a rust-belt economy, noted Bortolin.

The city’s 19-day ArtPrize festival has emerged as one of that country’s most significant cultural events, he said. “Grand Rapids turns into a living art gallery with pieces all over the city. It gets millions of visitors, and artists make Grand Rapids their home because they want to be a part of the changing face of the city.”

More jobs on the way, says Naidu

The WindsorEssex Economic Development Corporation expects to announce more “good news” about investment and jobs in the next three to four months, said interim CEO Rakesh Naidu.

“This is a combination of both business expansion and new investment coming to the region,” said Naidu, adding that there will be additional hiring in the agri-business, advanced manufacturing as well as transportation and logistics sectors.

Naidu also said he expects the agency to “facilitate” the creation of 1,200 new jobs this year, up from 942 in 2015. As well, it expects to attract new investment totalling $235 million in 2016 compared to $224 million last year, he added.

Marty Komsa, chair of the economic development corporation’s board of directors, said a permanent CEO is expected to be announced by the end of June.

The agency also unveiled a series of videos designed to promote the region’s economic assets to potential investors. The videos focused on professional services, transportation, logistics and warehousing, argi-business, advanced manufacturing and life sciences.