Corvallis has embraced this idea of the “creative class” as one of the ways out of our economic morass.
The idea, largely popularized by the author Richard Florida, is that “creative” people (defined here fairly broadly, for our purposes) prefer to live in areas with other creative people, and that the energy they generate helps to improve an area’s quality of life and economy.
Actually, it’s a theory that we more or less buy into, although from time to time an editorial on this page might poke some gentle fun at Corvallis’ rich abundance of big brains.
But if you’re trying to work through some tough issues, it usually helps to be able to call on some substantial brainpower. In fact, that’s what fuels many of the boards and commissions that do the heavy lifting for local government.
We already know, of course, about the high percentage of people in Corvallis and Benton County with bachelor’s degrees and above (it’s a truly remarkable 53 percent, about twice the state average).
Now comes some new information from Florida that suggests that Corvallis ranks in the top 10 nationally for the percentage of workers who belong in the creative class.
There’s a strong correlation, of course, between education and membership in the creative class, but it’s not a perfect match: Florida roughly defines the creative class as science and health professionals, designers and architects, health care workers, artists and others – why, even the writers of editorials for the Gazette-Times qualify.
Florida’s new numbers, as recently published on the website of The Atlantic, peg Corvallis as No. 8 in the nation for percentage of creatives in the work force. Our 41.7 percent puts us just above the Boston area (take that, Harvard) and just behind Huntsville, Ala. No. 1 is Durham, N.C. at 48.4 percent. Corvallis is the only Oregon metro area in the top 20.
Now, this new accolade for Corvallis will look good on the city’s resume, as it should. But these always come with a grain or two of salt, and it’s worth thinking about those.
First, one would expect Corvallis to do well in this measurement, considering our higher education rate, and the fact that so much of our employment hinges on Oregon State University and other educational institutions.
Second, it’s probably no surprise that the percentage of creatives is in the same ballpark as the percentage of people in Benton County’s work force who hold jobs in the public sector: About 36 percent, according to the most recent statistics from the state. As with the educational statistics, this isn’t at all a perfect correlation, but there’s no doubt that it’s a factor in our high percentage of the creative class.
Florida noted in The Atlantic piece that the “geography of the creative class has become more uneven over the past decade,” and that’s likely because creatives tend to flock to areas that already boast a high percentage of like-minded souls.
So the question for Corvallis isn’t so much what we can do to celebrate this latest accolade.
The question becomes this: How can we do a better job of harnessing all this creative brainpower?
On the web
Check out the “creative class” piece from The Atlantic at http://tinyurl.com/d3knwmg