Thursday, July 12, 2012

Why Centers of Creativity Need Place-based Tourism

Seeing the four-county-metro area anchored by Durham, NC, where I live, ranked number one in the nation for the proportion of creative class jobs at 48.4% reminded me that the “talent” measure is only one ingredient of the statistical index Dr. Richard Florida generates at the Martin Prosperity Institute, a think tank at the University of Toronto.

Actually, while the Durham metro is the only one in North Carolina to make the top 20, it ranks just 8th in the index overall coming in 40th for tolerance (Durham itself ranks much higher) and 8th for technology.  The Bohemian measure has been dropped from the index because it is not feasible to collect from current Census data.

Still 48.4% is very impressive and another support to Durham’s overarching story as a place where great things happen. “Nationwide, workers in areas of science, technology, design, architecture, arts, entertainment, healthcare, law, management and education” make up a third of the total workforce and are closely linked to economic vitality.Revisited

Reading about the new rankings brought back several related memories:

  • While Dr. Florida is no fan of touristy places which typically score very low, his research on what appeals to the creative class is filled with community attributes that rely on strong organically-focused “visitor-centric economic and cultural development.”

Places like Durham with highly successful tourism-related marketing and development that carefully fosters and preserves authentic and genuine place-based assets and attributes are sustaining the things most appealing to the creative class, while balancing the job mix.

  • The current Census grouping of cities, towns and counties into metropolitan areas is far more relevant and useful today than it was in the 1990s when Dr. Richard Florida’s team began to analyze knowledge workers (aka The Creative Class,) especially for places such as Durham NC.

Prior to these far more useful groupings adopted in the 2000s, Durham was lumped with a huge polycentric area that made it impossible to truly zero in on strengths and growth areas.  While they probably still won’t admit it, the interests that opposed Durham’s emergence back then are ironically today some of the biggest beneficiaries.

  • A decade ago, I assembled a collaboration that funded an analysis of Durham County by Dr. Kevin Stolarick and Florida’s team when they were based at Carnegie Mellon.  At that time, Durham’s proportion of creative class talent benchmarked at 40.1% and the community is obviously doing the right things to grow this proportion.

Then as now, it is important to note that appealing to the creative class isn’t about population size or being “major league” or having mainstream entertainment.  It is about being real and having a sense of place.

  • Another concern for Durham and other metros that rank high in the new analysis of creative centers is wage and income equality.  The Durham metro ranks 5th on the wage equality index (Raleigh-Cary ranks 14th) but neither makes the list for income inequality.

Being a magnate for the creative class is important to economic vitality’ but to be sustainable it is my opinion that Durham must take a broader view and work both toward a “living wage” and reestablishing its once thriving working class economy.b

There is much more in Dr. Florida’s just-released book and analysis entitled The Rise of the Creative Class, Revisited and when you read it you’ll learn why it is no mistake that the link I provided in this blog is to Independent Bookstores.

Newly revealed are metro breakdowns by creative job type, e.g. Meds & Eds, Science & Tech, Business Professionals and Arts, Culture & Media.

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