Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Talent Density

I've been meaning to get to the provocative post at Extraordinary Observations titled, "Where the Smart People Live". Among others, Richard Florida noticed the analysis and the concept took off from there. I highly recommend reading the comments reacting to the post. There is also a follow-up post that helps to flesh out the concept as well as addressing the fascinating jealously regarding the fame stemming from the idea. That's a subject for another day.

I want to address the Degree Sprawl metric:

This data suggests some level of "degree sprawl" in these cities, where college degree holders and sprawling out into the suburbs rather than staying in the central city. While further research would be helpful, this preliminary result is particularly worrisome if you believe that metro areas need strong central cities and strong central cities need a lot of smart people.

That resonated with Dr. Florida:

Pitingolo also provides an interesting analysis of human capital density at the county level, as well as identifying places that perform better or worse than expected on "predicted degree density" via a residual analysis. He raises an important question about "human capital sprawl." As he defines it, this occurs when human capital density is lower in the central city than its surrounding county. He finds preliminary evidence of human capital sprawl in five places -- Louisville, Jacksonville, Oklahoma City, Nashville, and Indianapolis, noting that: "This preliminary result is particularly worrisome if you believe that metro areas need strong central cities and strong central cities need a lot of smart people."

I'm here to say that the sprawl as defined doesn't matter. Pitingolo is looking at where smart people live, not work. Concerning the talent dividend, today from CEOs for Cities:

"Recent economic research has found that the greatest "spillover" benefits of having lots of college-educated workers occur in relatively small, densely populated areas. After a few miles, economic blessings - such as the attraction of new businesses and higher wages for workers across the board - erode significantly, the research concludes."

I've added the emphasis. The key is density of college-educated workers, not residents. Regions should not care where smart people live. In terms of talent, commuting can bring a lot of vitality to the core (see Pittsburgh). Boston may have a lot of smart people as a percentage of population, but the geography of where they work is another story.

2 comments:

nbguzna said...

Boston may have a lot of smart people as a percentage of population, but the geography of where they work is another story.

Can you elaborate on this? The few square miles in and around MIT and Harvard are frighteningly well-educated and talented places where dynamic, innovative stuff happens all the time.

Jim Russell said...

I am thinking about all the tech companies along Route 128 that ring the city.