Sunday, July 01, 2012

Jobs Of The Future Geography

The future is now. We are watching the economy transform before our eyes. Our idea of work from just 5-years ago is out of date:

“The kind of job where you come in and work 9 to 5, and where someone tells you what to do all day is becoming scarcer and scarcer,” said Erik Brynjolfsson, an economics professor at M.I.T. and co-author of “Race Against the Machine,” a book about how automation is changing the job market. “The kind of job where you have to hustle and hustle and where you’re not sure whether you will have enough clients next month, where you have less job security, is becoming much more common.”

Welcome to "Free Agent Nation." What does this economic geography look like? Brian Kelsey (Civic Analytics) holds Austin up as an example:

Some people move to Austin, especially from larger cities, with very unrealistic expectations about salary levels. Many people settle for full-time jobs somewhere but then quickly realize that they can make at least as much money working on their own.

Austin's entrepreneurial culture plays a role in nurturing that trend, but I think it's just as much due to the enterprising nature of people who make the decision to put down roots here, whether they are artists, musicians, finance professionals or software developers.

There are downsides, of course, with health insurance near the top of the list of concerns for these "free agents," as (author and journalist) Daniel Pink calls them. But overall, I think this trend is what makes Austin such an interesting place. If the "Free Agent Nation" were to have a capital, I think Austin would be a strong candidate.

Emphasis added. Why Austin? Missing is a theoretical lens to make sense of the trend. Enrico Moretti offers such a perspective, which is why I highly recommend his book, "The New Geography of Jobs." Instead of fitness instructors, Moretti discusses yoga teachers. Business is booming. This is the spillover from innovation. Such jobs support a wide variety of services. But some places are better than others. Where the innovation labor market is "thick", associated jobs (innovation job multipliers) pay better.

Kelsey is describing a different kind of free agent, people at the top of the talent food chain. Young, smart, and ambitious people move to cool Portland, Oregon. The dream doesn't pan out. One can either return home or go 1099 in order to stay. For this sector, Austin could be the capital. However, the spillover free agent economy (e.g. fitness instructors) isn't as strong. That's how I would define Austin's challenges. Is the labor market thick enough?

That's a fair question as long as forces of agglomeration continue to shape the Innovation Economy. I'm seeing evidence of diffusion. These forces put a host of other cities in play, namely those with less expensive real estate and a college educated workforce. (See Pittsburgh.) Free agents should be looking at emerging metros, not established ones.

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