There’s more to the Idaho State Museum’s recent renovation and expansion than finding a better home for Deja Moo. Increasingly, museums provide a strong economic impact to regions and are amenities businesses expect when looking to move to an area.
“While few dispute museums’ impacts on intangible aspects of a community, it comes as a surprise to many to hear about the economic benefits as well,” said Jeff Carr, director of public relations for the Museum of Idaho in Idaho Falls.
Idaho museums have an economic impact of $228 million, according to the American Alliance of Museums, which partnered with Oxford Economics in 2017 on Museums as Economic Engines, to study museums’ contribution to the U.S. economy. That includes 3,098 jobs contributing $179 million in wages and other income, the study noted.
In addition, Idaho museums contribute $46.1 million in tax revenues to federal, state and local governments, including $12.7 million in state and local taxes. And in an increasingly divisive political climate, museums are one thing that almost everyone can agree on: 89 percent of Americans believe that museums provide important economic impacts back to their communities, the study noted.
During its opening weekend, the Idaho State Museum said it had more than 1,000 visitors, and expects to have 115,000 visitors throughout its first year after reopening. Economic development is one of the three reasons museums are important, along with education and telling the story of Idaho in context, said Janet Gallimore, executive director of the Idaho State Historical Society, which operates the Idaho State Museum. To help attract events and performances, the $17 million renovation includes a 170-200 person meeting space, she added.
Museums are an important tool for attracting business, Carr said.
“We’re working with different entities to advertise the museum and its offerings to highly educated and skilled workers and their companies considering moves to Idaho Falls, since studies show those audiences highly value being in communities that support institutions such as museums,” he said. “And, as a region, we want to attract those kind of people. Museum-goers are smart, curious, creative people that contribute to the health, happiness and well-being of all.”
This also applies to Boise.
“Having a wide variety of world class community amenities, like the new State museum, or our universities, parks, arts venues, sports and recreational assets, help us attract and retain talented employees and prospective businesses,” said Bill Connors, president and CEO of the Boise Metro Chamber. “These kind of community assets are foundational in our economic development efforts, and our efforts to keep our community livable, likable and desirable.”
In addition, museums help attract conventions and tourists. “The Boise Convention and Visitors Bureau relies on a wide array of attractions as we promote our city to visitors,” said Carrie Westergard, executive director of the Boise Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Having a robust museum presence in Boise gives us more to showcase to entice visitors here by connecting them to the culture and history of the area.”
The same is true for the Museum of Idaho in Idaho Falls, which is also planning a renovation and expansion, for 2019. The Museum of Idaho contributes about $5 million to the Eastern Idaho economy, according to an economic impact study the museum commissioned in 2009 from the Eastern Idaho Entrepreneurial Center, Carr said.
“This impact came as a result of ticket revenues, money spent by patrons at other businesses in conjunction with their museum visit, and inter-industry spending,” he said.
In addition, the study also concluded that the museum’s presence created or sustained an average of 67 full-time equivalent jobs, although the museum had only 10 full-time and two part-time employees at the time, he said.
The organization is hoping to update the study, Carr said.
“We would anticipate significant improvement in our numbers since then, given increased attendance, and we anticipate more still after the completion of our ongoing expansion,” he said.