Let’s face it: Economic growth is boring, though important. The better it is, the more resilient a community becomes. Out of this comes the culture and cultivation of the Creative Class. Houston may be the 4th largest city in the country but its creative class designation is, while on the upswing, crawling.
In this Part 2 blog post, I share some of the findings of Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class, and his colleagues. Houston, despite all its size and culture, remains a lukewarm bed of creativity, especially when compared to New York, LA, and even Chicago. Most of that is due to the client base in Houston; much more B2B than B2C. More oil-n-gas than cornflakes; more energy than autos.
Based on Florida’s research and his colleagues’ input, they found that one of the most troubling trends of the past decade is the deepening geographic inequality across the U.S., especially through the clustering of particular types of talent in coastal cities like San Francisco and New York.
But a growing chorus of economists and urbanists suggest that we may be seeing the “rise of the rest,” a result of both increasingly unaffordable housing in established hubs and the improvement of the economies in less-established hubs.
While startups and tech employment remain highly clustered, recent reports suggest that some Rustbelt and Sunbelt metros are increasing their ability to attract college graduates.
Investigating what is actually happening to the geography of talent, Florida concentrated on changes in the location of the creative class for a period immediately before, during, and post-recession. While most studies equate talent with the share of adults who hold college degrees, his creative class metric is based on occupation.
About nine in 10 Americans with a college degree are members of the creative class, which is made up of knowledge workers in education, healthcare, law, arts, tech, science, and business. But, only six in 10 members of the creative class hold a college degree.
In 2005, the top ten list read like a veritable who’s who of the nation’s leading knowledge and tech hubs, led by Washington D.C., San Jose, and San Francisco. But Baltimore (with a large cluster of medical and scientific research centers around Johns Hopkins University) and Minneapolis-St. Paul also make the top-10 list, besting bigger metros like New York and Los Angeles.
In 2017, the creative class makes up more than half the workforce in the leading metros, and there are substantial changes in the rankings. San Jose tops the list, followed by D.C. and San Francisco, and now Denver and Philadelphia have joined the top ten.
The map below shows the percentage growth in the creative class from 2005 to 2017. A number of Rustbelt and Sunbelt metros which have previously lagged now show robust growth. Salt Lake City posted the fastest growth, with Pittsburgh and Cincinnati next in line. Las Vegas, which had the smallest creative class share of large metros in 2005, also saw significant growth.
Of leading creative class metros, only Seattle and Baltimore registered comparable gains. On the flip side, superstar hubs New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., all ranked among the ten metros with the slowest creative class growth.
This next chart shows Houston coming in at 32nd out of 53 metro areas, between St. Louis and Pittsburgh for the 2005-2017 time span. Houston’s Creative Class growth rate approximates 37% over the 12-year span.
According to Florida and his research associates, the creative class has seen remarkable growth over this time frame, increasing from 44 million members in 2005 to more than 56 million in 2017, as virtually all large U.S. metros saw growth. The rate of creative class growth (27.2 percent) was more than double the growth rate of overall U.S. workforce (13.6 percent) over this period.
Florida believes we may well be seeing the beginnings of a tipping point in the geography of talent as housing prices continue to rise in superstar cities, while metros in once talent-lagging parts of the country capitalize on the significant cost advantages and quality of life they have to offer.
In Houston, as in other comparably sized metro areas, technology and shared work spaces are in the forefront of change and innovation. The medical community, at least in Houston, is striving as never before to consistently research and provide for better and faster disease fighters. Economic and infrastructure expansion in the Texas Medical Center continues to roll along. This progress goes hand-n-hand with expansion of the Creative Class.
But we can’t let up. Just as important as innovative medicine development is, so, too, is the expansion and underwriting of the arts, culture and creativity in its purest form.
So, let me know your thoughts, questions or comments. I’d really like to hear from you.
Richard Florida is a co-founder and editor at large of CityLab and a senior editor at The Atlantic. He is a university professor in the University of Toronto’s School of Cities and Rotman School of Management.