It’s not likely that Frank Bures will be on Richard Florida’s holiday card list any time soon.
In case you missed it during the holiday week, Florida has written a response to “Fall of the Creative Class,” a piece published in a new city magazine for Minneapolis-St. Paul that takes broad aim at debunking Florida’s Creative Class theories on economic development.
Bures, a Minnesota native, is a writer whose work has appeared in magazines including Esquire, Wired and Outside, and he has won several awards for his travel writing work. In the article in Thirty Two magazine, Bures recounts how he and his wife in the early 2000s moved to Madison, Wisc., a place “deemed a ‘Creative Class’ stronghold by Richard Florida, the prophet of prosperous cool. We had no way of knowing how wrong he was about Madison…and about everything.”
Through personal anecdotes, interviews with Florida’s critics and citations from academic studies, Bures attacks Flordia’s central tenet that communities that consciously attract certain types of talent – including scientists, engineers, artists, health care professionals, academics and other highly educated or creative people – are more innovative, vibrant and create more and better-paying jobs.
In an online piece in The Atlantic Cities, Florida fires back that Bures’ article relies “heavily on questionable studies and cherry-picked negative comments from academics with their own personal axes to grind. ”
So, who makes a better case? Florida’s own research, statistics and numbers and those of his critics fill volumes and are not likely to persuade either side that the other is full of it. Do communities that attract Creative Class talent tend to do that much better economically at generating higher income and wages? Depends on whose numbers you look at and who is interpreting them.
But whether you buy the numbers or buy the anecdotes, quality of place is an increasingly significant component of talent attraction, creative or otherwise. Places that are leveraging technological capabilities with desirable livability attributes are seeing success in attracting investment and innovation.
It is a core of the business recruitment effort of a state like Wyoming and a key differentiator for a community like Chattanooga, TN. In Akron OH, a fusion of engineering and research talent from its polymers industry coupled with the creative and academic mass of the University of Akron is helping to transform the city’s downtown.
In Nashville, playing up the region’s “cool” factor is a key part of an overall economic development talent recruitment effort. And in Charlotte, abundant engineering and science talent, major academic research centers and diverse quality of life are making the region a thriving center for entrepreneurial activity.
Demographer Joel Kotkin says the communities with the best economic prospects are those in the “sweet spot” of job creation and attributes that make them desirable. The variable is that prism through which quality of place is filtered. Bures’ experiences in Madison color his perceptions of the value of Creative Class theory. A Creative Class ”bohemian” settling in Madison might have a diametrically different experience and a completely different opinion on Florida’s theory.
“When all is said and done, artistic and cultural creativity do add to regional economies,” Florida writes. “At its best, innovation — whether it occurs in leading cities or in highly successful companies like Apple — means mixing new designs (artistic and cultural creativity) with technological creativity and ultimately with economic creativity (entrepreneurship) to create revolutionary new products, build new firms, and create and transform whole industries.”
What’s your take? Does the Creative Class theory translate into a sound economic development strategy for your community? Is the success measure, in your experience, closer to Florida or Bures? Share your thoughts.