Portland is a great little city. Hardly a week passes without another mention in a list of “bests” – best place to eat, to retire, to bike. The housing boom on the peninsula reinforces the media buzz with concrete evidence of population change.

At the same time, the city’s struggles to provide for its low-income, homeless and immigrant populations and the University of Southern Maine’s struggles to rebalance its programs with its financial resources highlight the need to look carefully at the city’s changing economic structure.

One of Portland’s most striking changes over the past decade has been the growth of what I have come to call the entertainment economy. Between 2002 and 2013, total private-sector employment in Portland proper (in businesses reporting from a Portland address) fell by 2.4 percent, or about 1,400 jobs. Over the same period, employment in the accommodation and food-services sector rose by 20 percent, or about 985 jobs. The arts, entertainment and recreation sector grew by 36 percent, adding 260 jobs.

And while jobs in these sectors pay less than the all-sector average, their rates of wage growth were far above the overall average. Average weekly pay in the accommodation and recreation sector grew by 42 percent over the period, while average pay in the arts, entertainment and recreation sector jumped by nearly 64 percent. Clearly, the city’s growing demand for “entertainment services” is driving up the price required to attract the workers these businesses need.

The contrast here with the retail sector is striking. Over the same period, the city’s retail trade sector saw its employment fall by nearly 440 jobs, a drop of nearly 8 percent. And the average weekly wage in this sector rose by only 25 percent, far below the all sector average of 40 percent. Clearly some combination of online shopping and sluggish overall employment growth is limiting the power of the city’s retail sector to power job growth.

Another interesting effect of the move to an “entertainment” economy is its seasonal impact. For the retail sector, the fourth quarter – holiday shopping – is its key time of year, with average employment 12 percent above quarter one totals. For the accommodations and food services sector, quarter three – the tourist-heavy July-September period – is the key time, with average employment rising 18 percent above that of quarter one. Interestingly, and for reasons I don’t understand, quarter two seems to be the peak time of year for the arts, entertainment and recreation sector, with employment jumping 23 percent above its quarter one totals.

In sum, while great attention has been devoted to defining, measuring and promoting the so-called “creative” economy, a more pragmatic task for the city’s planning and development officials may be to drill down into its “entertainment” economy to better understand just what it is, what conditions it needs to grow and, perhaps most importantly, how those conditions might be connected to the city’s education, job training and social integration challenges.

Charles Lawton is chief economist for Planning Decisions Inc. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]