Brain Drain: Forecastle Founder J.K. McKnight on the Power of Culture for Louisville

This month, WFPL is exploring Brain Drain in Louisville: What does it take for this city to attract and retain talented young professionals?

We continue our series this week with J.K. McKnight, founder of the Forecastle Festival. What began as a small event in the Highlands in 2002 now attracts upwards of 60,000 people to Waterfront Park. This year’s acts included the Black Keys, the Flaming Lips, Jim James and many others.

The role festivals and cultural institutions play in attracting new workers and businesses to a city is something that McKnight has seen firsthand.

We spoke about this, and why Louisville was an ideal city to launch the festival. Here’s some of what McKnight had to say:

What made Louisville a good place to start Forecastle?

Louisville has a unique characteristic, where everything feels accessible here. Local government feels accessible, people feel accessible, even the larger corporations feel accessible—and were to me in those early days.

You have created a major cultural draw for Louisville. How important is culture in attracting young professionals?

It’s incredibly important. I’ve got to think it’s part of any city’s strategic plan: to foster a culture that is attractive to young people. Because if you don’t have young people moving to a city, you’re not going to get the kind of businesses you want, and if you don’t get the kind of businesses you want, you are not going to be able to build communities that have what you want to have in a great city.

Examples of this?

Look at what South by Southwest has done to Austin. It’s not only hundreds of millions of dollars of economic impact, but it’s people pouring in there: artists,  entrepreneurs,  business people, investors, all pouring in there for a week and half, and walking away with a great impression. I know a lot of people who have moved to Austin after that experience. I ran into a company two weeks ago that decided to move here after they come to Forecastle and worked a lighting gig we set them up with. I don’t think people should ever underestimate the power of that—that a single event could be very transformative in the minds of young people.

Do some of our bigger businesses, like Humana and Yum Brands, need to do a better job of creating an innovative culture where they appear to be on the cutting edge and exciting places for young people to work?

They always say “perception is reality” in the PR world, and it’s true in a lot of way. We talked about cities like Austin: They’ve cultivated an image. Whether that image is 100 percent true or not, it doesn’t really matter. What they’ve put out people have consumed, and the results—economically, culturally—are just massive.

You can listen the full interview below:

(Image via Shutterstock)

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