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Ontario businesses should invest in the arts to attract top employees: study

About 65 per cent of the 500 skilled Ontario workers who were surveyed said a vibrant arts community was a driving factor when relocating for work.

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Ontario businesses should prioritize investments in arts and culture to attract top skilled workers, according to a new study.

About 65 per cent of the 500 skilled Ontario workers who were surveyed said a vibrant arts community was a driving factor when relocating for work. While the same percentage of 508 businesses surveyed in the province agreed, only a quarter of them said their work locations were situated in thriving arts and culture hubs.

"There's clearly a disconnect there," said Nichole Anderson, president and CEO of Business for the Arts, which commissioned the study, titled Culture for Competitiveness, with support from the Ontario Arts Council.

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The findings, presented to business leaders last week at the Toronto Region Board of Trade, could sway booming tech sectors in cities such as Waterloo and Kingston that are looking outside the province for skilled workers, including business owners and people with post-graduate degrees.

As it stands, less than a third of businesses think that participating in an arts or cultural association is important to their employees, the survey found, while a quarter of the businesses said they donated to the arts.

But 32 per cent of skilled workers said they were donors, volunteers or subscribers to an arts and culture organization, while nearly 90 per cent said they had attended an arts festival at least once in the past year.

The survey results are accurate within 4.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

"When we listen to Ontarians that are part of that knowledge economy, their level of affinity to arts and culture is exceptionally high," said Nik Nanos, chairman of Nanos Research, which conducted the survey in April. "Those workers were more likely to be engaged in a variety of arts and cultural activities compared to watching sporting events."

The businesses surveyed, however, invest heavily in sports and would equally benefit by giving to the arts, which offer an "enormous" return on investment," Ms. Anderson said.

"That's not saying that sports aren't important," she said. "But $50,000 to an arts and culture organization is going to go a whole lot further. It's a drop in the bucket in the sports field."

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Larger employers can invest in the arts through their community programs, Ms. Anderson said. Sun Life Financial, for example, runs a program that lets people with limited funds attend arts performances. Scotiabank donates up to $1,000 to community organizations for which its employees volunteer more than 50 hours.

Smaller businesses can support the arts "beyond dollars and cents," Mr. Nanos said. "If our small communities have ambitions to be strong and thriving places to live ... then they have to look at arts as part of that."

Ms. Anderson cited a law firm in Owen Sound, Ont., which partnered with the local Roxy Theatre to assemble a theatre troupe and produce a show for colleagues and clients.

"It seems to cement the relationship not only between the arts organization and legal services, but also internally for that law firm. Imagine the bond you create when you do a Second City experience," Ms. Anderson said.

Future research will examine how ethnic groups vary in their support of the arts, she said. A national study is also in the works to determine whether business investment in the arts differs among provinces.

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