Saturday, July 2, 2005

The Creative Class returns

The creatives are abandoning our cities.

And who can blame them? In small cities like Jackson, what is there to keep the up-and-coming creative professional from leaving? It's not like there are an abundant number of - to put it bluntly - things to do in town for young people.

In author and economist Richard Florida's ("Rise of the Creative Class") new book, “The Flight of the Creative Class: The New Global Competition for Talent," the case is made that the "flight" of creative professionals from American cities to other countries leaves the country with an economic disadvantage.

"The United States of America is on the verge of losing its competitive advantage,” Florida wrote last fall in a Harvard Business Review article based on his new book. “It is facing perhaps its greatest economic challenge since the dawn of the industrial revolution...Terrorism is less a threat to the U.S. than the possibility that creative and talented people will stop wanting to live within its borders.”

But Florida's foreshadowing of America's creative blight doesn't have to be a global warning - we face a similar problem in beautiful downtown Jackson, Mich.

For too long creative, unique high school graduates have left for college only to never return. Ann Arbor isn't that far away, after all, and there's much more the home of the University of Michigan can offer than the home of the "United States' largest walled prison."

But more and more, Jackson is finding itself as an ideal location for hip goings-on in and around the downtown area.

Consider a Jackson Renaissance.

The city has done much to attract, or at least retain, the creative professionals (such as engineers, designers, entertainers, artists, scientists). Governor Jennifer Granholm even awarded Jackson the "Cool Cities" designation, meaning the city would receive grants and funding - as well as nifty signs posted around town - to make it a hip place to be.

The crown jewel is the Armory Arts Project, a renovation and restructuring of the old Michigan National Guard armory center near the old prison walls to turn it into a creative haven and living center for artists.

But venues like the Riverwalk Amphitheatre concerts, Cruise Nights, the Thunderbird Coffee House, downtown bars like The Office and The Crazy Cowboy, and involved organizations like the Arts and Cultural Alliance are making Jackson a creative place to live. And play.

Jackson needs to keep its creative professionals. Since "creatives" - according to Florida - make up about 30 percent of America's work force, Jackson stands to lose a large number of its talented workers if it doesn't provide an interactive, quality-of-life-focused place to live. The factories are leaving, down-sizing, or rusting away where they stand. Manufacturing is on the way out. The service sector will always be there, but new, exciting ideas and economic development have rarely sprung from a fast-food check-out line.

Sadly, barriers still exist - one in particular. Florida's "three Ts" of creative development - talent, technology, and tolerance - make Jackson's mostly conservative population a tough crowd to convince. There are those in town who think that "hippies" need to look elsewhere for their creative kicks, or those who still hold racial, sexual, or gender prejudices that put a damper on any tolerance progress the Rose City could make.

No, Jackson has much potential, and it will take those who are hard-wired to solve complex problems and offer innovative solutions to realize all this city has to offer. It will also take those of a more open mind-set to strip the intolerant of power and influence to really get things done.

Part of all of this is personal. I want to live in a fun place, with things to do, and events and happenings that stimulate my brain. We have two malls. We have a decent concert venue at Jackson Community College. But we're just now starting to entertain and develop creative and signature events, organizations, and artistic outlets that make Jackson...Jackson.

More needs to be done, and there is a certain crop of young professionals who are realizing that, instead of leaving, we can stay and make Jackson a better place to live.

I don't plan on going anywhere anytime soon. I want to see what Jackson's creatives have to offer.

But also, I want to see what Jackson has to offer us creatives.

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