Creativity expert Richard Florida opened the UCEA conference with a speech about the role of creative communities.The information economy is not organized around big industry anymore, but around communities with a critical mass of creativity, he explained.
"My father worked for the same company in Pittsburgh from age 11 to age 65," Florida said. "Today the average worker changes jobs every three years - and if you're 30 or younger, you change jobs after less than one year." Because of this constant career churn, people want to be where there is economic opportunity built around innovation and skills - creative communities. Today's information economy workers want to move to a place with "a thick labor force" - a place with energy and creative vibrancy.
Much of what he said reminded me of a speech I gave at NYU in 2000, in which I described the virtuous cycle of skilled communities. Towns that possess a critical mass of skilled, entrepreneurial people will help build new businesses and attract others from elsewhere. This, in turn, attracts more skilled workers, creating more economic opportunity. Unfortunately, the opposite was true as well - communities experiencing "brain drain" will find knowledge-economy businesses move elsewhere, leading to even fewer skilled local workers.
Florida recounted speaking at the National Governors Association. He said his presentation was made easier because it was preceded by a keynote from HP CEO Carly Fiorina. In essence, she told them, "Forget your tax breaks and other incentives to get the IT industry moving to your state;: we want to move into communities with a highly skilled, creative workforce, end of story."
A truly creative community embraces tolerance and diversity with the same vigor as it embraces innovation - a situation which explains why communities that have welcomed the gay community have also built strong cultural centers and economic innovation.
Silicon Valley, he said in his closing, is a direct result of San Francisco's creative openness. The PC was invented by "guys who looked like Jerry Garcia."
Creativity is a universal resource, "from the street musician to the capuccino drinking yuppy." Universities, he said, can help harness this creativeness, as well as encourage tolerance and openness, to help build the creative communities of tomorrow.