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A Publication of WTVP

Recently, Peoria NEXT sponsored a Discovery Forum. A highlight of the forum was a presentation from Dr. Richard Florida, author of Rise of the Creative Class. In his book, Florida raises a number of issues we need to consider as we wrestle with the challenges of a knowledge-based global economy.

The following excerpts from the preface of his book summarize the challenges that directly impact our nation, state, region, and communities: "Like most books, this one did not spring to life fully formed. Rather, my ideas evolved gradually from things I saw and heard that seemed to be at odds with conventional wisdom. In my work on regional economic development, I try to identify the factors that make some cities and regions grow and prosper, while others lag behind. One of the oldest pieces of conventional wisdom in this field says the key to economic growth is attracting and retaining companies-the bigger the company, the better-because companies create jobs and people go where the jobs are. During the 1980s and 1990s, many cities in the United States and around the world tried to turn themselves into the next "Silicon Somewhere" by building high-tech office parks or starting up venture capital funds. The game plan was to nourish high-tech startup companies or, in its cruder variants, to lure them from other cities. But it quickly became clear that this wasn't working.

"I saw this firsthand in the mid-1990s with Lycos, a Carnegie Mellon spin-off company. The Lycos technology, which you have probably used to search the Internet, was developed in Pittsburg. But the company eventually moved its operations to Boston to gain access to a deep pool of skilled managers, technologists and business people. These departures were happening repeatedly, in Pittsburgh and elsewhere. All too often the technologies, the companies and even the venture capital dollars flowed out of town to places that had a bigger and better stock of talented and creative people. In a curious reversal, instead of people moving to jobs, I was finding that companies were moving to or forming in places that had the skilled people.

"…My conclusion was that rather than being driven exclusively by companies, economic growth was occurring in places that were tolerant, diverse and open to creativity-because these were places where creative people of all types wanted to live.

"…As I delved more deeply into the research, I came to realize that something even bigger was going on. Though most experts continued to point to technology as a driving force of broad social change, I became convinced that the truly fundamental changes of our time had to do with subtler alterations in the way we live and work-gradually accumulating shifts in our workplaces, leisure activities, communities and everyday lives. Everything from the kinds of lifestyles we seek to the ways in which we schedule our time and relate to others are changing. And yes, there was a common thread: The role of creativity as the fundamental source of economic growth and the rise of the new Creative Class."

Dr. Florida also leaves our nation with a challenge in the closing paragraphs of his preface to the paperback edition: "Still in many ways, America is well positioned to survive and prosper in the new creative environment. Despite the recent economic slump, growing rates of productivity suggest that the country's ability to innovate remains strong. It has a long tradition of openness and tolerance on which the creative economy was launched. And the United States has shown an uncanny transformative capability time and again. This time the challenge is very deep. It will take real political will and imagination to bring this nation together and develop a vision of how to tap the creative energy of all of its people. Any country that doesn't keep building its creative activities, and with policies that bring more citizens into the creative sector rather than under-employing them-will fall behind."

Over the next few issues, we'll explore these issues and their impact on central Illinois. IBI

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