Monday, September 10, 2012

Suburbia Is Dying

Every economic epoch comes with a signature migration pattern. The Manufacturing Economy informed the Great Migration. Suburbanization is linked with the Innovation Economy. The move back to the city is the hallmark of the Talent Economy:

The new interest in downtown marks a big shift from the late 1990s, when the area's software and multimedia firms flocked to suburban offices along Loop 360 (Capital of Texas Highway), where office developments offered an abundance of affordable space. Downtown didn't offer much of a draw anyway — the central business sector became a virtual ghost town when office workers cleared out at day's end.

But downtown's transformation over the past decade — bringing a growing collection of restaurants, bars and shops, as well as an explosion of condos and apartments — has made it the preferred destination for young companies, real estate brokers say.

"If you want to attract and retain that young, highly educated workforce, you want to be in the center of where things are happening," said Jeff Pace, a veteran real estate developer and senior vice president of Jones Lang LaSalle's Austin office. "Parking issues and higher costs scare some away, but a lot of companies are deciding they want to be part of the energy and the creativity that's there. As startups and companies compete for talent, being downtown has become a competitive advantage."

Odd to see Austin as trailing a fad. But there you have it. The dominant economic geography of the Innovation Economy is the suburban tech park. Austin might be the poster child for this spatial fetish. From yesterday's post, Rust Belt Chic economic development:

Thorpe, who visited the Twin Cities last year to tout robotics, said he sees potential for companies serving different markets to share research facilities if they have common underlying technologies.

He said the Twin Cities, like Pittsburgh, has an academic anchor in the University of Minnesota, which has a strong robotics department. It's so strong that it has lured some prized professors away from Carnegie Mellon, he said.

The other thing that Pittsburgh had decades ago were empty spots that could be the shells for small robot startups, Thorpe said.

That's where Street is starting. She's been touring empty buildings across the Twin Cities as possible sites for GRIP.

Emphasis added. Those empty spots are artifacts of suburban migration and the ascendance of the Innovation Economy. That's the crucible for the Talent Economy, something Austin and the Twin Cities would like to emulate. The transformation is well-heeled in Pittsburgh and just getting going elsewhere. Still, the evidence of suburbia dying isn't strong. Yet.

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