Florida vs Kotkin

I first learned about Richard Florida after Larry Burkhardt, former ERC CEO, came back from an economic development conference in Arizona. Florida was one of the major presenters at the conference and Larry was impressed. I tracked down some of Florida’s research papers and bought his book The Rise of the Creative Class, which identified some of forces beginning to reshape our economy, geography, and workplace in 2002. My latest read was Who’s Your City?: How the Creative Economy Is Making Where to Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life.

I was already a fan of Kotkin, having read some his early books, The New Geography: How the Digital Revolution Is Reshaping the American Landscape and Tribes: How Race, Religion, and Identity Determine Success in the New Global Economy. My latest read was The New Class Conflict. The best chapters are the first four, the last chapters are less interesting.

Our local lefty, Jeff Pelline, is promoting Richard Florida three “T”s of economic development: “technology, talent and tolerance.” This is economic development that works best in an urban environment, not a rural California County teetering on edge of economic disaster.

According to Kotkin quoted in a Reason.com article:

Florida himself, in his role as an editor at The Atlantic, admitted last month what his critics, including myself, have said for a decade: that the benefits of appealing to the creative class accrue largely to its members—and do little to make anyone else any better off. The rewards of the “creative class” strategy, he notes, “flow disproportionately to more highly-skilled knowledge, professional and creative workers,” since the wage increases that blue-collar and lower-skilled workers see “disappear when their higher housing costs are taken into account.” His reasonable and fairly brave, if belated, takeaway: “On close inspection, talent clustering provides little in the way of trickle-down benefits.”…

So, even Florida admits his approach has some limitations and downsides. Kotkin says that rust belt cities trying to emulate a San Francisco/Seattle model are failing:

The most risible example of this may have been former Michigan Jennifer Granholm’s “cool cities” campaign of the mid-oughts, that sought to cultivate the “creative class” by subsidizing the arts in Detroit and across the state. It didn’t exactly work. “You can put mag wheels on a Gremlin,” comments one long-time Michigan observer. “but that doesn’t make it a Mustang.”


Kotkin’s long and detailed piece [In the Daily Beast] goes on to explain that creative class enclaves are still hotbeds of poverty and/or are becoming less ethnically diverse, and less-family oriented, despite Florida’s celebration of diversity. And if you want fast job growth, “the fastest job growth has taken place in regions—Houston, Dallas, Oklahoma City, Omaha—whose economies are based not on “creative” industries but on less fashionable pursuits such as oil and gas, agriculture and manufacturing.”

You can read whole article HERE.

My problem with both Florida and Kotkin, is that they are more focused on URBAN economic development and we are struggling with RURAL economic development. If I had to pick who I would like to have a beer with to discuss economic development, I would pick Kotkin. He seems to be more practical in his approach to economic development, where Florida is more academic.  We need some economic development reality, “technology, talent and tolerance.” seems too academic.

About Russ Steele

Freelance writer and climate change blogger. Russ spent twenty years in the Air Force as a navigator specializing in electronics warfare and digital systems. After his service he was employed for sixteen years as concept developer for TRW, an aerospace and automotive company, and then was CEO of a non-profit Internet provider for 18 months. Russ's articles have appeared in Comstock's Business, Capitol Journal, Trailer Life, Monitoring Times, and Idaho Magazine.
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