Creative Economy

Creative Jobs Report

Pre-pandemic Assessment

Full Report | Infographic

This comprehensive 40+ page report looks at creative jobs over a five-year period from 2015-2019 by industry, occupation, race, Hispanic ethnicity, gender, and age.

Creative industry jobs in Buncombe County grew 24% during this period— reaching over 14,000. And, by 2019, creative industry sales had reached $1.6 billion, representing 44% growth since 2015. The creative economy spans 8 major industries or supersectors, including Leisure and Hospitality, Manufacturing, Professional and Business Services, Information, Trade, Education and Health Services, Construction, and Other Services.

Within these supersectors are 9 creative sectors and 74 creative industries. The top creative sector is Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation which grew 53%— double the growth rate of Buncombe County’s Construction industry over the same time period. The top creative industry both in earnings and sales was Independent Artists, Writers, and Performers.

Creative industry jobs include all jobs, whether they are creative occupations or not, and paint a more comprehensive picture of the creative economy. On the other hand, narrowing in on just creative occupations provides additional insight into the creative workforce. By 2019, there were an estimated 9,700 creative occupations. Top occupations include Photographers, Musicians and Singers, Writers and Authors, Fine Artists, and Graphic Designers.

The report looks at occupations across four classes of workers, QCEW or salaried with benefits, Non-QCEW or salaried without benefits, self-employed, and extended proprietors whose creative occupation is not their primary source of income. A growing number of creative occupation jobs are extended proprietors or “gig” workers66% in 2019. It is less certain whether or not these workers have access to various benefits through unemployment insurance, health insurance, paid leave, retirement savings, and others.

Cost of living and wage discrepancies are also highlighted in the report. In 2019, the cost of living in Buncombe County was 1% above the national average and the second-highest in the state, and by 2020, it had changed to 6% above the national average and the highest in the state, according to the Council for Community and Economic Research as reported by the Asheville Chamber of Commerce. Wages on average were also 16% below state averages and 30% below national averages. These discrepancies are even higher when looking at most of the top creative occupations. 

On top of these growing concerns, the full impact of the coronavirus virus is still unclear. According to Americans for the Arts, creative economy businesses in North Carolina lost $3.4 billion in revenue in 2020, and 66% of these businesses were severely impacted by COVID-19. Creative workers also faced devastating impacts with 65% experiencing unemployment. In Buncombe County, independent artists, the performing arts, museums, historic sites, and motion pictures were identified by the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce as being among the most negatively impacted industries.

With $1.6 billion in creative industry sales in 2019 and 24% growth from 2015-2019, there is no doubt that the creative sector plays a key role in Buncombe County’s economy. But, it remains to be seen how long it will take the sector to bounce back from these unfortunate setbacks.

The arts council says it plans to follow up this report with a post-pandemic analysis early next year. 

Buncombe County Creative Sector Earnings

2020 BC Creative Wage Infographic

There is a growing gap between local living costs and creative wages. On average, earnings for creative occupations in Buncombe County are 14% lower than the state average and 22% lower than the national average. Meanwhile, the cost of living index is now the highest in the state.

While an average, the report also shows that several core arts occupations such as Craft Artists, Fine Artists, Painters, Sculptors, Illustrators, and Camera Operators have wages that fall below the living wage $15,50/ hour for Buncombe County as reported by Just Economics.

See the full infographic for more details. A comparison of all 71 ‘creative’ occupations with State and National average hourly earnings is also available here.

Creative Industry Earnings

Industry earnings data is arrived at by aggregating the compensation paid for the labor of all workers in a given industry. These earnings have a big impact on our economy as workers purchase common local amenities and recirculate those dollars back into the local economy.

Up 34% from 2015 to 2019

Top Creative Industry by Earnings

Independent Artists, Writers & Performers

Creative Industry Sales

Industry sales is another metric that measures the amount of money moving through the economy. The revenue an industry receives is the total annual sales (gross receipts) made to other industries and consumers.

Up 44% from 2015 to 2019

Top Creative Industry by Earnings

Independent Artists, Writers & Performers

Number of Creative Jobs

Creative Industry Jobs in 2019

Creative Occupation Jobs in 2019

Non-profit Cultural Arts Drive Tourism

Buncombe County is one of 341 study regions that participated in the Americans for the Arts’ Arts & Economic Prosperity 5 study, which is the most comprehensive study of its kind ever conducted. The study documents the economic impact of the nonprofit arts and culture sector in 228 cities and counties, 81 multi-city or multi-county regions, 20 states, and 121 individual arts districts—representing all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The findings show that locally and nationally the arts are a strong driver of tourism!


of Tourism in the US is by the Arts-- 2/3 of all of the tourism in the United States.


of Non-resident Attendees primary reason for coming to Asheville/ Buncombe County was to attend this arts event.


of Non-resident Attendees would not have traveled to Asheville/ Buncombe County if not for arts event.


of Resident Attendees said they would have left home and traveled to a different community to attend a similar cultural experience.

The report also shows that Non-profit arts and culture organizations spend $26.4 million annually, leverage a remarkable $42.5 million in additional spending by arts and culture audiences – spending that pumps vital revenue into local restaurants, hotels, retail stores, and other businesses. Supporting arts and culture not only enhances our quality of life, but also invests in Buncombe County’s economic well-being!

Read more about Buncombe County’s arts non-profits impact here:

Read the full AFTA report on Buncombe County here.

Data reported in 2016 Arts & Economic Prosperity 5 research study by Americans for the Arts.

Additional Reports