Creative Economy

Creative Jobs Report

Pre-Pandemic Report (2015-2019): Press Release | Full Report | Infographic
Pandemic Report (2019-2021): Press Release | Full Report | Infographic

Health concerns, supply chain issues, and employment challenges continue to impact the local creative sector – particularly Leisure and Hospitality, and Manufacturing industries. Lessons learned by these industries provide creative solutions for future crises, such as public health messaging that emphasizes creative engagement and socially distanced community gatherings in public spaces.

The Creative Jobs Report looks at creative industries at the end of 2019 to the end of 2021 – showing the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on these industries over time. This study is a follow-up to the Buncombe County Creative Jobs Pre-pandemic (2015-19) and Buncombe County Creative Sector Earnings reports published by the Asheville Area Arts Council last year.

Some highlights include:

  • From 2015-19, creative industry jobs in Buncombe County grew 24%— reaching approximately 14,000.
  • By 2019, creative industry sales had reached $1.6 billion, representing 44% growth since 2015.
  • As COVID-19 struck the nation in March 2020, many creative industries faced significant challenges — including up to 14 months of closure due to state mandated health restriction.
  • Jobs in Buncombe County creative industries declined 18% from 2019-20 and by 2021 jobs were estimated to be 2,259 below 2019 totals.
  • The majority of these job losses are in the Arts and Entertainment industries under Leisure and Hospitality, with Historic Sites and Independent Artists, Writers, and Performers making up 56% of the losses.
  • Sales, which had reached over $1.6 billion in 2019, declined to $1.5 billion in 2020 and increased little in 2021.
  • Manufacturing topped sales in 2019, and saw a 2% sales increase by 2021– among core creative industries these sales gains reached 41%.
  • Musical instrument manufacturing; custom architectural woodwork and millwork manufacturing; and pottery, ceramics, and plumbing fixture manufacturing were among the top core creative manufacturing industries to see increases in sales and jobs.
  • A study entitled “Transitioning and Scaling Creative Sector Businesses: A Sector Development Plan for Creative Manufacturing in Western North Carolina” is currently being spearheaded by the Land of Sky Regional Council of Government to examine ways to scale creative manufacturing businesses.
  • As part of this manufacturing study, the Asheville Area Arts Council is working with Riverbird Research on an assessment of current creative manufacturing industries across the Asheville Metro in Western NC. Findings will be published in early 2023.
Buncombe County Create Jobs Pandemic Report Cover

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