Quality of place and
the new economy
Open space preservation, access to nature, and other quality-of-place amenities may be keys to Northeast Ohios future economic development. In essence, that is the argument of the following article by Richard Florida, a professor of regional economic development at Carnegie Mellon Universitys Heinz School of Public Policy and Management. The article is taken from a summary of a report that Florida prepared in January 2000 for the R. K. Mellon Foundation, Heinz Endowments, and Sustainable Pittsburgh.

By Richard Florida

The rise of the new economy has radically altered the ways that cities and regions establish and maintain their competitive advantage. In the new economy, regions develop advantages based on their ability to quickly mobilize the best people, resources, and capabilities required to turn innovations into new business ideas and commercial products. The nexus of competitive advantage has thus shifted to those regions that can generate, retain, and attract the best talent.

This report summarizes the key findings of a year-long study of the role of talent in the new economy. The study looked specifically at how quality-of placethat is amenities, lifestyle, and environmental qualityaffect the ability of regions to attract talent and to generate and sustain high technology industry. To do so, it examined the performance of regions across the country on these dimensions, explored what leading regions are doing to be successful, and conducted focus groups with young knowledge workers in technology-based fields to better understand how they choose places to live and work.

The key findings of the study confirm that amenities and environmental quality matter in the attraction of talent and development of high technology regional economies, as follows:

Quality-of-placeparticularly natural, recreational, and lifestyle amenitiesis absolutely vital in attracting knowledge workers and in supporting leading-edge high technology firms and industries. Knowledge workers essentially balance economic opportunity and lifestyle in selecting a place to live and work. Thus, quality-of-place factors are as important as traditional economic factors such as jobs and career opportunity in attracting knowledge workers in high technology fields. Given that they have a wealth of job opportunities, knowledge workers have the ability to choose cities and regions that are attractive places to live as well as work.

The availability of job and career opportunities is a necessary but insufficient condition to attract the young knowledge workers. Knowledge workers favor cities and regions with a thick labor market which offers the wide variety of employment opportunities required to sustain a career in high technology fields. Quality-of-place completes the picture.

Leading high technology regions also rate very highly in terms of quality-of-place with high levels of amenities and environmental quality. Austin, Texas; Seattle, Washington; the San Francisco Bay area; the greater Boston region; and Washington, D.C. score consistently high across virtually every quality-of-place measurenatural amenities, lifestyle amenities, and overall environmental quality. There is a strikingly strong correlation across the board between regions that are home to large concentrations of knowledge workers, amenities, and the environment. In this regard, amenities and the environment are part of a total package of factors required to become a successful technology-based region with a large pool of knowledge workers.

Leading high technology regions have aggressively pursued strategies to bolster their environmental quality, natural amenities, and lifestyle offerings to attract and retain talent. Austin and Seattle have placed high priority on recreational amenities such as bike paths, mountain bike trails, parks and recreational areas, and accessibility to water for rowing and sailing. These regions have cultivated thriving music scenes and are also known for their youth-oriented cultures that are open and supportive of diversity. Both regions are among the national leaders in smart growth and sustainable development. Leading high technology regions have also supported the development of extensive lifestyle and recreational amenities around major university districts where knowledge workers reside.

Knowledge workers prefer places with a diverse range of outdoor recreational activities (e.g., rowing, sailing, cycling, rock climbing) and associated lifestyle amenities. Access to water and water-based recreation is of particular importance to these workers. Knowledge workers prefer regions where amenities and activities are easy to get to and available on a "just-in-time" basis. Due to the long hours, fast-pace, and tight deadlines associated with work in high technology industries, knowledge workers require amenities that blend seamlessly with work and can be accessed on demand. They favor cities and regions that offer a wide range of experiences, and are somewhat less concerned with "big ticket" amenities such as "high" arts and culture or professional sports. Knowledge workers also express a strong preference for progressive regions that are youth-oriented and supportive of demographic diversity.

The findings of this report suggest that cities and regions have a great deal to gain from developing a quality-of-place strategy designed to attract knowledge workers and from embedding it in ongoing economic development and competitiveness efforts. In doing so, the report indicates that the region should consider the following actions:

  • Make quality-of-place a central feature of regional economic development strategies.
  • Integrate amenities and natural assets into all aspects of regional economic development, talent attraction, and marketing efforts.
  • Invest in outdoor, recreational and lifestyle amenities as a component of regional economic development and talent attraction efforts; for example, the creation of climbing walls, mountain bike trails, bike paths, roller-blading areas and the like. Sponsor outdoor competitions and events to the region such as triathlons, bike races, rowing competitions, and similar efforts that attract the attention of knowledge workers. Orient waterfront improvements to encourage recreational activities such as rowing, sailing and windsurfing, particularly by improving access.
  • Develop a comprehensive amenity strategy for university districts and integrate them into economic development strategies. Establish more user-friendly transit connections between university districts, downtowns, and centers for high-technology enterprise through light rail, mass transit and bike lanes for commuting.
  • Encourage smart growth and sustainable development on a regional basis, particularly sustainable use, preservation, and revitalization of natural assets. Equip neighborhoods and communities with tools to preserve open space and to create recreational amenities. Work with developers to provide more examples of successful residential and commercial developments that feature amenities, particularly in reconverted brownfield sites in urban areas.
  • Create mechanisms for harnessing the knowledge and ideas of all citizens at the neighborhood, local, and regional levels for improving the quality-of-place around the environment and amenities. Develop vehicles for involving young people in the regional amenity and lifestyle agenda as well as in the broader economic development agenda. A quality-of-place strategy is relatively inexpensive and involves marshalling resources (parks, waterfronts, etc.) that are already in place. It also is strongly place-based and as such confers direct benefits on broad segments of the local population and industry, in contrast to conferring large subsidies to non-residents or outside industry. For example, elderly populations express support for bike trails and paths especially around the university district, as they will take commuting cyclists off the sidewalks. Amenities will also benefit disadvantaged neighborhoods and populations, as well as attracting knowledge workers.

Quality-of-place is the missing piece of the puzzle. To compete successfully in the age of talent, regions must make quality-of-place a central element of their economic development efforts.



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