Creative workers driving today's economy
But managing them could make the difference between life and death for businesses

During the mid-1990s, something happened in Richard Florida's hometown of Pittsburgh that made him completely re-think the way he looked at regional economic development.

Long a typical rust belt city, Pittsburgh finally produced a high-tech winner; the Internet search engine Lycos, which was developed at Carnegie Mellon University where Florida taught. The prospect of hundreds of well-paying jobs had area residents licking their chops.

But on the cusp of Lycos's huge popular success, the company announced plans to move its engineering and technical operations to Boston. The reason given was that Boston offered lifestyle options that made it easier to attract the managerial and technical talent that the company was looking for to grow its business.

"The move was a real eye opener for me," said Florida, author of recently released The Rise of the Creative Class, in a telephone interview. "Until then, we always thought that people would move to where the jobs were. But here was a company that was going where the people are."

According to Florida, creativity is the new driving force in our economy, and is the key competitive advantage for most companies.

"In virtually every industry, from automobiles to fashion, for products and information technology, the winners are those that can create and keep creating," writes Florida. That means getting their hands on good creative employees. And keeping them motivated is a key management challenge in most businesses.

According to Florida the creative class includes core professions such as scientists, artists, designers and writers. But others such as financial professionals and lawyers who use a significant amount of creativity as part of their jobs also qualify. Together these groups form an emerging class of some 38.3 million individuals or 30 per cent of the U.S. workforce.

Companies that aren't able to effectively mobilize that talent are going to get rolled over said Florida. On the other hand, succeeding often means "taking people who would have once been seen as bizarre mavericks and setting them at the very heart of the process of innovation."

But motivating highly creative individuals isn't easy. For one, money is not the key driving factor for many of them, falling far behind other quality of life options.

"In my research it quickly became apparent that one of the most important things for creative people is that they like to live in open, diverse and tolerant cities," said Florida. Creative individuals like to associate with people who are different than they are, and they mesh well with people from other races, sexes and who have different interests and talents.

In one telling example of the importance of diversity in terms of a city attracting creative types, Florida compiled a list of high-tech hotspots in the U.S. The list, which included such cities as San Francisco, Seattle and Boston, correlated closely with a list of communities with the highest concentration of gays.

Creative people also like to live with other creative people said Florida. In fact he compiled what he calls a "Bohemian Index," which measures the density of artists, writers and performers in a region. Cities with a high Bohemian index also tend to have considerable concentrations of innovative firms.

According to Florida, Montreal fares quite well with 36,000 bohemians, or 10.8 bohemians per 1,000 people -- eighth among all North American cities. The fact that Montreal will be hosting the Gay Games in 2006, is also good indicator of Montreal's tolerance to difference and diversity said Florida.

Florida cites the Cirque de Soleil's success, and its decision to maintain its offices and training facilities in Montreal, despite its international success as an example of how a city's quality of life can influence a businesses decision on where to locate.

The emergence of a new creative class has substantial implications for business. For one, while you can hire a creative person you can't just squeeze creativity out of him said Florida. That means, companies have to create work environments and conditions that confirm to the bohemian spirit of creative individuals. This can include relaxed work attire and scheduling compromises.

Montreal would appear to be ideally placed to attract innovative companies because of its high degree of tolerance, its artistic make up and quality of life standpoint. However according to Florida, its nature as a predominantly French city is both an asset and a liability.

That's because while Montreal's most creative people are likely to speak both French and English, the need to be able to function in French can be a deterrent for newcomers.

 

Photo caption: According to economic development professor Richard Florida, the success of Montreal's Cirque de Soleil is tangible evidence of the richness of Montreal's creative community.

 

 

Diekmeyer can be reached at peter@peterdiekmeyer.com

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