Monday, September 22, 2008

Richard Florida's Failure?

Richard Florida has his boosters and detractors. Count his adopted city of Toronto as one of the skeptics. An article in the Globe and Mail details the disparity between Florida's rankings and those of the Milken Report measuring city health:

Would you expect to find, based on Mr. Florida, that San Francisco, his own top-ranked American city in 2002, now ranks 74th in a non-ideological ranking of the 200 largest U.S. cities? And that San Diego, his own No. 2, now ranks 65th? And that Boston, his own No. 3, now ranks 118th?

What might I make of these numbers? I am reminded of the floating baseline problem facing scientists trying to improve meteorological data. I was privy to the early evaluation of wind profilers. How could we tell if the numbers we were seeing were better than what we were currently using?

Memphis came up with an interesting way to relate the two data sets:

The [Milken Report] is often used by the private sector to evaluate locations for new businesses and expansions, and on the public sector side, officials use the rankings to identify strategies that are needed for economic development. The rankings were comprised of jobs growth, wage and salary growth, short-term job growth, relative high tech GDP growth, high-tech GDP location quotient, and number of high-tech GDP LQ>1.

Memphis did not finish in the top 100 in even a single category, and in the number of high-tech GDP, Memphis was #181, which seems to be the highest hurdle that we need to clear.

It shouldn’t have been this way. Memphis was the first city to apply the research of Richard Florida (before he’d even published his now-famous book on the creative class) in an effort to develop a city that attracts and retains creative workers. Then, Memphis Manifesto Summit (now printed in Dr. Florida’s book) convened 135 “creatives” in our city to write their manifesto for cities seeking them as citizens and workers. Finally, the first research about 25-34 year-olds and recommendations for cities seeking them began here (in collaboration with Portland economist Joe Cortright).

The suggestion seems to be that if Memphis followed the advice of Richard Florida, then Memphis should rise in the Milken rankings. Dr. Florida would be the best person to answer this charge. Given my own understanding of Florida's work, I'd expect the cities scoring well in the Creative Class indices to attract more domestic migrants, particularly the young and well-educated adults. Whether or not that should translate into a better score in the Milken index, I'll leave that for others to judge.

Are the Milken numbers a fair measure of Richard Florida's plan for Memphis?

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