Tucson measures up well in technology, talent and tolerance, the three T’s as described by Richard Florida, the man behind the term “creative class.”
He ranks Tucson third, fifth and sixth among midsize cities in his Creativity Index, which demonstrates that successful cities offer something for everybody: They accept the different interests of different people.
But much of Tucson’s good marks get negated in Florida’s Brain Drain Index, which compares the university population with the nonuniversity population. He ranks Tucson 207th.
“We’re exporting our greatest asset: kids,” Florida said about students leaving Tucson after graduating from the University of Arizona.
This leads to a Tucson population built largely with children and older people and less so with young adults, who are the driving force in cities such as Austin, Texas; San Jose, Calif.; and Chapel Hill, N.C. These are the poster children of the creative class – anything from scientists and engineers to artists and musicians.
“The middle is somewhat missing,” Florida said. “That’s what you have to address immediately.”
Florida spoke Thursday to more than 500 people representing the leadership of Tucson’s economic, business and government sectors at the annual meeting for Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities Inc. at JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort.
“He hit on some things that are quite relevant, in particular, the brain drain,” said Randi Dorman, who developed a downtown ice factory into the Ice House Lofts. “I consider myself fortunate I didn’t move here in my 20s and single. I wonder what on Earth I would do here. There is a lack of things to attract the young and energetic population.”
Florida, a professor at the University of Toronto and author of “The Rise of the Creative Class” (2002), discovered this phenomenon in the mid-1990s when Lycos, the search engine firm, decided to move from Pittsburgh to Boston.
“They were moving for one reason and one reason only: knowledge-based, innovative people were already in Boston,” Florida said.
Florida’s research determined the greatest concentration of innovation is found in two-dozen places around the world. He ranks Phoenix as one of them, and says Tucson is close enough that the two metropolitan areas must capitalize on this regional strength.
“We call it 5 million people,” Florida said after mentioning the Phoenix area. “It’s one of the 25 players in the world. (Creative class innovation centers) often have more than one great university. When you’re sitting around two world-class universities (UA and Arizona State), you have more than critical mass. You have the best ingredients right here. This is not the place we have seen the greatest movement forward.”