When Richard Florida visited the eyeglass factory where his dad worked in New Jersey in the 1960s, he was amazed by what he saw.
The machines and the technology used to produce the eyeglasses fascinated young Florida, but he was missing something bigger.
His dad, a first generation American and son of Italian immigrants, pulled him aside and told him, “It’s not the machines that make this factory great. What makes it great is the knowledge, the intelligence, the creativity of the people who work here.”
Years later, those words helped Florida discover what he believes is the true key to economic growth: creativity.
Now a renowned author and urban studies theorist, Florida recently discussed at FIU the rise of what he calls the creative class – those whose economic function is to create new ideas, technology and creative content (which makes up about a third of the U.S. work force) – and how Miami fits in this new creative economy.
In his March 20th talk, “Opportunities and Challenges of the Creative Economy,” Florida mentioned a number of ideas emanating from his global bestseller The Rise of the Creative Class. The book details the reshaping of the national economy and growing role of creativity in it.
Florida argued that every human being is creative and that creativity can come from anywhere, cutting across ethnic, racial and socio-economic barriers that our society has imposed on itself. He also went into detail about a shift in the main economic unit in today’s economy, which has occurred over the course of the past two decades.
“Our economy is no longer just about companies. It is about two other things: people and places. It’s about how we want to live our lives and what kind of places we want to live in,” Florida said. “Our world is being reshaped around cities, metropolitan areas and mega-regions. They have become the primary social and economic organizing unit of our time.”
For Florida, mega-regions are large-scale economic units of multiple large cities and their surrounding suburbs. The greater Miami area is located in one of the largest. He calls this mega-region “So-Flo;” it stretches from Miami up to Orlando and across to Tampa.
The main reasons why Miami has bounced back from the recent economic downturn faster than many other cities, Florida said, include a dynamic economy that is based on more than real estate; an international airport that connects the city to the world; and the city’s role as a regional and global center for talent aggregation, talent attraction and trade.
“You are living in an economy that’s bigger than Turkey or the Netherlands,” Florida told the audience. “If we were a country, this would be one of the 20 largest national economies on the face of the earth.”
He also talked about the opportunities and challenges that exist in Miami’s economy. He listed the three main components necessary for economic growth – technology, talent and tolerance – and how Miami ranked in each area.
While Florida noted that Miami received high marks for tolerance, which indicates a society that is open-minded and accepts new people, he believes there’s still work to be done in the areas of technology and retaining and attracting talent to the area.
Another challenge facing greater Miami is the great divide between the creative class – which includes artists, scientists, health care professionals, business managers, teachers and others – and the service industry that makes up a majority of Miami’s economy.
“We are a service-creative economy with a tremendous divide,” Florida said. “When I look at our world today, this is the divide we have to solve and it begins by understanding that we can upgrade our service jobs and make them better. When you treat service workers well, when you pay retail workers more, when you engage them in their work, when you treat them well and pay them well, they deliver more productivity and profit.”
Cities like Miami could lead the way in that endeavor.
“We need to upgrade the service economy and I think Miami and Las Vegas should be leading the world in activating the service economy.”
While Florida acknowledged the economy is still struggling, he said that college students today have more choices and career paths to pursue than any generation in history.
“Now there’s non-profit work, social and private entrepreneurship, the ability to start your own lifestyle business. You have to do stuff you love,” Florida told students in attendance. “If you’re in your early twenties, that’s the time you should follow your dream and do something you love.”