Strategies can help attract ‘creative class’ – Capitalize on Education, Lifestyle and City’s "Brand", author says

When Bo Cowgill finished listening to a lecture at Stanford University a few months ago about the rise of the creative class and how hip, young workers were migrating to a handful of cities, one question came to mind: "What is a town like Lexington going to do?"

John Stamper
Lexington Herald Leader in

The speaker, Carnegie Mellon University economist Richard Florida, encouraged the audience to send him e-mails, promising to answer any questions. So Cowgill fired off his question into cyberspace.

"He didn’t get back to me on that," said the Lexington native, who now works for Google in Silicon Valley. "But it’s a good question."

There are no easy answers, but here are some suggestions gathered from Florida’s book, The Rise of the Creative Class, experiences in other cities and a variety of economic development experts.

• Most of all, make education a priority and create systems that encourage entrepreneurs to capitalize on locally produced knowledge.

* Develop incentives that encourage a vibrant downtown residential community. Rehab buildings into the types of funky living spaces that younger singles have flocked to across the nation.

• Build a world-class "people climate" to complement a solid business climate. In other words, promote diversity and openness and invest in amenities attractive to people with active lifestyles. Instead of building stadiums, build off-road trails for biking, running and inline skating.

• Find a way to bolster the local music and culinary scenes. Good food and good music are essential to many in the creative class.

• Update the city’s brand. Kris Kimel, president of the non-profit Kentucky Science and Technology Corp., has tried to create an "innovation" brand for Lexington by starting the IdeaFestival, held downtown every other year.

In Memphis, a group of citizens has recommended revitalizing the city’s brand through such steps as replacing images of slow-moving riverboats with active scenes of kayaking and encouraging public places to drop elevator music and replace it with Memphis music.

• Find your own niche. If a city has strong advantages that would attract young married couples, exploit them. Invest in the public school system and other amenities important to young families.

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