“This is where the talent wants to live”

In the article “A New Type of Growing City,” The Atlantic quotes “the mayor of a city that has similarities to Sioux Falls and Burlington” who “sent this extremely interesting note.”

Who could that have been?

I was particularly interested in your recent story about Burlington. I believe there is a new class of city emerging across the country which are positioned to succeed in the coming decade – a class of city that has not yet been identified on a national scale.

This city is a small/mid-sized regional center. The population range I have been studying are cites between 50-125k. These cities are defined by natural beauty, outdoor recreation, strong and supportive arts community, entrepreneurial spirit, progressive outlook, and a strong sense of place and ethos connected to the place people choose to live. Cities like Burlington, Asheville, Flagstaff, Bend, Missoula, Santa Fe, Provo, and Duluth.

These cities are all at least a couple hours outside of the major metro in their area, which affords them their own character and identity. They are popular destinations for the metro – primarily tourism, but increasingly companies are coming to realize they can locate in these small cities and find the talent they need to find. Because this is where the talent wants to live.

27 Comments

Claire

about 6 years ago

I have to say, when I first moved to Duluth in '94, people in NYC especially but also California, would ask me what the hell I was thinking, moving to the sticks. I don't get that anymore. In fact, people in NYC have expressed envy, b/c it can be tough living in a big city where people, people, people are everywhere you go, and you don't do anything, go anywhere, because it is a pain in the ass to get out there and it's so expensive. 

In my industry, a lot of publishers in the Twin Cities are stealing away people from NYC. Something is going on here. One can live anywhere and work anywhere now, thanks to the Internet. Geographic limitations are a thing of the past.

vicarious

about 6 years ago

Mayor Ness all but admitted being the quote source on his Facebook page ("admitted" is probably the wrong term).

Also, Provo is awesome. I passed through there recently; I didn't expect "Salt Lake City's own Superior" would be so homey, progressive, and scenic. I'd live there.

Special K

about 6 years ago

I heartily agree with the sentiment.  Every time I visit the cities I am reminded why I don't want to return there.  I'm fortunate enough to have found a professional career after shool to allow me to stay up here.  As hopeful as this article sounds though, anecdotally I appear to be in the minority

Thomas

about 6 years ago

One difference is that those other cities actually embrace new blood coming in to their city.  In Duluth, if you did not graduate high school here, you are an outsider that may qualify for 'Duluthian' status only after many years.  Native Duluthians have no idea how they are viewed and exsperienced.  Yes, the city has everything, seemingly, but new people will not stay unless they feel accepted.  Not so much...

Ramos

about 6 years ago

I consider the whole idea that companies will move to where the talent is to be borderline bullshit. It's called the "theory of creative capital," and it all started with Richard Florida's 2001 book Rise of the Creative Class and snowballed from there. The Duluth charrette of a few years back brought consultants to town who spouted off Florida's theories as if they were established fact and made recommendations based on that.

The mayor is a strong believer in the theory of creative capital. He talked about it a lot in his 2013 State of the City address. The fact that it hasn't been proven doesn't seem to matter to him, just as it doesn't matter to the leadership of hundreds of other communities. In a little over a decade, the theory of creative capital has swept through urban planning departments around the globe.

It's all fuzzy thinking and feel-good pronouncements. In the progress report issued by the charrette team a few years ago, one member said,

"From all indications we've seen, from its setup to its architecture to its location along the lake, our team thinks Superior Street has the ingredients to become a truly great street of national stature. At night there are music, performing arts, funky bars, cool hotels, grand theaters and ballrooms all lit up. During the day there are coffee shops full of creatives and dealmakers and studio spaces full of large screen computers and/or artisans. So much so that it attracts people, just to watch it all go down."
See? "It attracts people, just to watch it all go down." They're saying that as fact, when there is no evidence that it's true. Just like they're saying that people in coffee shops are "dealmakers and creatives." How do they know that? Well, for one thing, because Richard Florida really likes coffee shops. He said so in his book. Moreover, this description of Superior Street seems to be weirdly incomplete. There is plenty of talk of "cool hotels" and "funky bars," but three of Superior Street's busiest locations -- the public library, the bus station and the plasma center -- aren't mentioned at all. Why? Most likely, because a lot of the people who hang out at those places are poor. The theory of creative capital is only concerned with things that will interest highly-talented "creative" folks, who will bring in the big bucks. Richard Florida's most creative communities also tend to be the most inequitable, and the theory of creative capital offers no solutions to that. It's no coincidence that the Atlantic is publishing stories about this stuff. Florida is a senior editor at the Atlantic.

TimK

about 6 years ago

As a born-and-raised Duluthian with family in the cemetery, I am one citizen who acknowledges the added value of creative transplants to the Zenith City. I have had many more professional and creative opportunities in the past 10 years than the previous 40. No town is perfect and we could certainly do more for all our citizens. First step is to recognize that without being an annoying buzzkill.

Ramos

about 6 years ago

As a creative person myself, I have never had many opportunities in the Zenith City. Most of the time, when I want to do something creative, I have to do it on my own time and at my own expense. If I want to earn money, I have to deliver pizzas or phonebooks or wash dishes or drive a taxi. So there's my anecdote, in response to yours.

If pointing out that city policy is being driven by fuzzy, feel-good, unproven theories is a buzzkill, so be it. It's my creativity at work, baby, and if you don't think I've put in some long, entirely voluntary hours researching this, you would be mistaken. Sharing my knowledge with others is how I give back to the community. Look for my full report on the subject sometime in the future.

[email protected]

about 6 years ago

I have lived here eight years and am still a guest here. I expect I will die having lived half my life here but never having been from here. 

Ramos, the problem with Florida's theories are well documented and even vaguely acknowledged by Florida. The distinction you are missing is not that Duluth should want to lure companies here from other places, but that we lose a lot of the talent we have to the presumption that opportunities are greater in the cities. That we can fix.

vicarious

about 6 years ago

If you have to deliver phone books and drive a cab in order to support your creative propensities, perhaps you're either not as creative as you believe yourself to be, or the quality of your creations is lacking. Why should others carry the "expense" of your creative endeavors?

Thomas

about 6 years ago

I had to deliver phone books to make some cash as no one in Duluth would hire me. I (honest to god) had a human resource professional tell me that if you are not from Duluth, then it is just a matter of time before you leave so they did not want to invest in bringing me on.

 I finally moved away and fulfilled the 'self fulfilling prophecy' of that HR professional. And now I do what I love and most qualified for, designing and marketing clean energy projects.  Whether it is art of progressive business, Duluth is old school business as usual for most.  But it works for you. Duluth really loves itself.  Just don't be delusional about retaining young talent or attracting new from "the outside."

jester

about 6 years ago

Welcome to the world of creative endeavors, where you realize that nobody really pays much (if at all) for what you love to do and you have to take crappy jobs in order to support yourself! Sadly, Duluth is one of the only towns that requires people to take those jobs if they so choose to be "creative."

Many of my friends and I are people that Duluth actually attracted us here to live and do things we love. Weird, huh? We've payed taxes as both tourists and local residents, we contribute to the local community in ways that we can and don't expect much in return. We are also realistic about what this city is. It's not Minneapolis, but nor is it Karlstad, MN. It probably never will be Minneapolis, and that is fine, many of us don't want it to be. 

Duluth does well in that you have to make your own things happen with grounded, realistic expectations. You can be supported, but it will be small support. Some of us get lucky (Low, TBT). The trade off is a pace and quality of life that fits what I want.

Ramos

about 6 years ago

Although few things are more authentic and indigenous than poor people -- especially in Duluth -- poor people do not represent the kind of authenticity the Creative Class is looking for —- the kind that enables their own relentless pursuit of self. To his credit, Richard Florida does not ignore the poor completely in his book. Every so often, after rhapsodizing about Creatives for page after page, he mentions that this sweet new world does come with some problems. One group of people that has been growing in tandem with the Creative Class is the lowly, menial-wage Service Class. Indeed, the most creative cities in the nation are frequently the most economically divided. While Creatives get paid more and more to pursue their various brands of funky value-addingness, the Service Class gets paid less and less to wash their shirts.

Duluth starkly exhibits this divide. While the Creative Corridor report happily notes that households with incomes above $150,000 have risen 23 percent in the Duluth metropolitan region over the past six years, citing this as evidence that Duluth has "turned a corner," it neglects to mention that the portion of Duluthians living below the poverty level is still 21.4 percent, more than twice the state average. Drew Digby, an economist at the University of Minnesota-Duluth (and one of Richard Florida's biggest fans locally), told a reporter, "There are ... two types of jobs in Duluth. The first are really well paying jobs for people with a lot of skills, whether they're people in healthcare, or doctors or nurses, technicians, engineers, folks like that. On the other end of the scale we have a lot of jobs that pay less than $10 an hour." 

The fruits of the Creative Economy, it would seem, go almost entirely to the winners. So why are we so gung-ho to build that kind of economy?

BadCat!

about 6 years ago

In order to be considered to be a "True Duluthian," you have to 1-Live in Duluth, and 2-Not give a shit what other people's BS "citizen requirements" are.

I moved to Duluth for college, and as soon as I discovered the city, I fell in love and knew I this was my new hometown. If anyone looks down on me and considers me less than them because my parents happened to live somewhere else, I truly do not give a shit.

As far as I'm concerned, I live here, I like it, I'm a Duluthian.

piker

about 6 years ago

The weather is the number one thing holding Duluth back. Unfortunately that's difficult to change. Pray for global warming, I guess.

[email protected]

about 6 years ago

Straw manning Ness as Florida isn't working for me, Ramos.

TimK

about 6 years ago

I don't get the hate on Ness or the hate on wanting more creative types to live here. Remember the 80s? This town almost gave up. High paying jobs in any field are desired everywhere. I'm not seeing the specific cause and effect of creative development inherently ignoring poverty.

Terry G.

about 6 years ago

Ramos - I'm curious - what is an example of the type of city you think Duluth is/should be? Superior? Beloit, Wisconsin? Toledo, Ohio? Should we be trying to attract more plasma donor businesses?

Ramos

about 6 years ago

Well, I'd have to say I'm hating on Richard Florida more than the mayor, because--ugh!--I really can't stand Richard Florida. At his going rate of $40,000 per speaking engagement, I estimate that I've watched nearly half a million dollars' worth of Florida's prattling on YouTube. That's enough to make anyone nauseous. My criticisms of the mayor are to the extent that the mayor has adopted the teachings of Florida--but that, as it happens, is quite a bit.

The easiest way to prove this would be to simply ask the mayor. I'm sure he would say yes. In his 2013 State of the City address, he said

"National experts are pointing to the increased importance of skill availability as a key variable in determining population and job growth across the country, while employers are becoming increasingly concerned with their ability to find qualified workers. These sought-after employees can find work anywhere. Increasingly, companies are choosing to locate in the places where these talented employees want to live, rather than the other way around."
That's the theory of creative capital the mayor is reciting, practically word for word. I'm not setting him up as a straw man. He's practically a Richard Florida clone. He's not alone in that, of course. In 2011, the city established a "creative corridor" in Duluth, the purpose of which is "to attract and retain vibrant, knowledge-based industries and professions and the workforce they employ (dubbed the 'creative class')." As it happens, creative corridors have also recently sprung up in Charleston, SC; Detroit, MI; Little Rock, AR; Portland, OR; Pueblo, CO; Shreveport, LA; Philadelphia, PA; and San Antonio, TX, just to name a few places in the world. These days, everybody loves Richard Florida, and nobody loves him more than consultants. Terry G.: I think Duluth should be the kind of city that pays high wages for low-skill jobs, via city-imposed income redistribution if necessary. I would be very happy if fast-food workers in Duluth unionized. A mayoral proclamation to that effect would be a very bold statement indeed. But I doubt if it would attract Creatives.

Ramos

about 6 years ago

Also, insulting plasma centers is uncalled-for. They are one way that people with no skills can make a little cash in the world. I would be very much in favor of setting aside a couple million dollars of tourism tax and using it to pay plasma donors an extra $10 or $20 per donation.

Mike Scholtz

about 6 years ago

Anecdotally, I moved to Duluth in 1999 because I liked it here. I got some jobs, made some movies and helped start a film festival in a barn. I've noticed a bunch of other people doing similar things in the last decade. So, that's a thing that's happening. I think it's a good thing. Because this city is clearly better off now than it was 20 or 30 years ago. That's really all I wanted to say.

Starfire

about 6 years ago

+1 Mr. Scholtz

Shane Bauer

about 6 years ago

+1 Bad Cat
+1 Mr. Scholtz
+1 Starfire
+1 Mayor Ness

There are a lot of people in this community who have created great things with very little, probably because they focused on what we DO have rather than what we don't around here. Less complaining and more gratitude surely leads to greater results and a better attitude.

+1 Duluth
+1 Superior
+1 Lake Superior

Ramos

about 6 years ago

Actually, I'm one of very few who does quality complaining in Duluth, especially on the issue of mayoral philosophy. The breakdown is something like this:

Number of people complaining: 1

Number of people floating around with blissful smiles on their faces: 86,000

I don't really think that shifting that proportion to 86,001-0 would lead to greater results.

Thomas

about 6 years ago

I would absolutely love to come back to the Zenith City.  It is beautiful.  And I am sure there are examples of success as statistically that has to happen.  But the larger question you are missing is what will it take to live up to your potential.  If you are all satisfied, then the wonderful status quo should suffice and new people just have to realize that what you see is indeed what you get, and the acceptance qualifications are just part of the gig.  I have talked to a lot of folks outside of Duluth the last 5 months about Duluth.  You cannot deny your citizen's reputation.  Duluthians would joke to me about being the Norwegian Riviera.  It is NOT a joke, Duluth has world class opportunities in its physical assets but seems to be at war with itself about achieving its potential.

emmadogs

about 6 years ago

Are artists to blame for gentrification?

This link is also relevant (hopefully) to 'Jim Carlson is guilty'/gentrification thread.

Ramos

about 6 years ago

A fine article, Emmadogs. I like how it points out that Richard Florida's theories are bogus. The big difference between the article and Duluth city policy, however, is that Duluth is actively pursuing gentrification. Nobody is to blame for it. If gentrification is achieved, its architects will be hailed as heroes.

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