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A healthy creative class

THIS ARTICLE TALKS ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF THE CREATIVE CLASS in developing thriving communities, and includes a discussion of what it takes to truly “connect” and retain young talent (YPs) in a region. (Article first APPEARED IN THE AUGUST 2008 ISSUE OF “SPACECOAST BUSINESS”.)

“Now it is the intrinsically human ability to create new ideas, new technologies, new business models, new cultural forms, and whole new industries that really matters.”

— Richard Florida.

The truth is that “more people than ever before are getting to do creative work for a living.”

From architects and engineers, scientists and artists, writers and planners, analysts and designers, the creative class has been on the rise for many decades but dramatically so since 1980. Nationally, the creative sector of the economy (according to Richard Florida, in The Flight of the Creative Class: The New Global Competition for Talent,” 2007) accounts for more than 30% of employment and nearly half of total wages, roughly equal to the manufacturing and service sectors combined.

While some may dispute the exact percentages, no one can deny the power of the creative class. If you live on the Space Coast, you are probably saying to yourself, the figures must be even higher here.

That’s wonderful, but it’s also challenging, as there is evidence that capturing and retaining a thriving creative class (particularly knowledge workers and innovation leaders) is getting significantly more difficult.

Howard Lance, Harris Corporation’s CEO, has said we’re in “a war for talent.” Creative workers have choices. Creative workers are desired, competed for and attracted away. So it is not just the fight to secure desired contributors, it is a fight to keep them.

Any CEO of one of our major companies–and any owner of a small business, too–can tell you about the hard and soft costs that come with the loss of key employees. Some of that loss is very visible (orientation, training and recruitment costs, etc.) and some of that is less visible but devastating (loss of knowledge at critical junctures, loss of momentum or continuity on key projects, and destruction of motivation among other workers when people are leaving vs. desiring to stay).

There is general agreement that economic growth will emanate from creative or knowledge-based occupations. That’s why it’s important to acknowledge the contributions of the creative class and pay attention to not just what brings them here but what keeps them here—thriving, happy and connected.

It is that last word (connected) which Next Generation Consulting has told us is so critical, in a study conducted in 2005 for LEAD Brevard (with a grant from the Brevard Workforce Development Board). This study addresses what it takes to keep YPs (young professionals) in our area.

The Next Generation Consulting study revealed several things worth our consideration. One significant finding tells us that our YPs have a high need to contribute on the job and in the community.

They want to make connections and discover ways they can make a difference and help guide the future. They want to serve on non-profit boards, but many boards fail to see the considerable potential and value of the perspective gained by nurturing 20-somethings and 30-somethings as members.

The study tells us young professionals want and require significant ways to grow on the job, not be pigeonholed as new or too young, needing to wait in the wings, pay dues, etc. Business leaders should take note, because that simply isn’t going to cut it for our emerging talent base. If an organization has not yet made this shift in their culture, to proactively open doors at any age for those who desire and have earned it, the change is overdue.

Learning and development opportunities help bind talent to organizations, but in and of itself, it is not enough. The Next Generation Consulting study tells us young professionals wants to make connections within communities and become rooted. They want options where this can happen. They want green spaces and arts and meeting places. They want a wide variety of cultural offerings and places for casual arts, entertainment and conversation. And, they want where they live to be a place that welcomes cultural and people diversity.

The need for these welcoming “third places”—the third component of a three legged stool (home, work and third places to gather and connect)—supports integration into a community and has been well documented. This puts into focus the need to encourage:
> the development of the Eau Gallie Arts District,
>Main Street programs,
>the revitalization of downtown Titusville,
>enhancements to Riverfront Park in Cocoa Village,
>private/public partnerships—such as between Florida Tech and the City of Melbourne—to consider the rejuvenation of the old Strawbridge High School (next door to Henegar Center)
>as well as other ideas to enrich spaces for a variety of social and cultural gatherings.

Paying attention to the needs of our emerging workforce—making sure we have proactively in place that which makes us competitive as a set of communities—is even more significant here on the Space Coast, with an aging, retiring workforce in key arenas. The need to assure we have what it takes to attract—and then keep—new contributors, new blood, new talents will become more keenly understood as we all work together to fill the gap created by shifts in NASA’s programs and tumultuous budgeting realities.

As our economic development professionals, agencies and organizations (state and local) work together to uncover new and interested participants in our economy, fit new needs to existing and changing workforce, and move to solve the challenges we face here, we will have unusual and unusually exciting opportunities.

Will we be ready? Will we stack up against other areas in providing the kind of quality of life emerging (or experienced) talent wants? Will we have looked at our area, not with a blind eye, but with a realistic one, and at least have in the pipeline here the kinds of critical efforts, developing the social and cultural offerings that are required? Will we be ready to help new people get integrated—truly connected—so we can keep them and engage them as part of the solution, growing roots here? Or will we be playing catch-up to other areas who understand the nuances of what a community must strive to be?

Taking a job, deciding to come here to Brevard, is never just the wages, never just the job, never just the cost of living; it is a series of decisions and factors that fall into place. Staying here, on the other hand, is very much about PLACE. Is it where I want to live? Does it provide the stimulation and options I need? Can I see myself here in 15 years?

As we proceed and make choices as a community, as a county, it is critical that we are not short-sighted. We should listen to those who are studying the movements of creative class workers and make sure we have prioritized those factors that make us a textured, vibrant, vital, stimulating place to be.

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