Our Opinion: Expert: Tucson needs to bring young people into the foldby Tucson Citizen on Oct. 02, 2007, under Opinion
Business and political leaders in Tucson got a scolding last week for excluding young people from economic development efforts.
Oh, it didn’t sound like a scolding. It came off as friendly advice, while at the same time exposing a significant local economic problem.
Community leaders would do well to heed the advice so Tucson can achieve its potential and most especially reverse the departure of young, talented people seeking opportunity.
That long has been the elephant in the room that no one has been willing to discuss or do anything about. Now an outsider has called us on it, so we can’t continue to play ignorant.
University of Toronto economist Richard L. Florida told attendees at the annual luncheon of Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities, known as TREO, that Tucson does a poor job with what he calls a young “creative class” to drive economic development.
Florida is author of “The Rise of the Creative Class,” a 2002 study of how to tap people’s creativity for economic development.
He described what he called the “three Ts” – technology, talent and tolerance – that he said are needed to achieve economic success. He said Boston, the Silicon Valley, Toronto and other areas have done so successfully.
Everyone can be creative, Florida said, but the vibrancy starts with young adults who lead in transforming the economic and social culture.
That’s where we do poorly. Statistics from his studies show that Tucson has terrific potential, ranking high in fulfilling his three Ts, but we fall way short – 207th in his index – in retaining talented college graduates.
“We’re exporting our greatest asset: kids,” Florida said about University of Arizona graduates who leave when they get their diplomas.
Without retention of those graduates to form the nucleus of a creative class, economic development in Tucson has been stifled.
Florida said Tucson’s population is built largely with children and older people and less so with young adults.
“The middle is somewhat missing,” he said. “That’s what you have to address immediately.”
As leader of local economic development efforts, TREO’s own makeup and activities show just how far we have to go to put the young creative class to work for the greater good.
The same audience that heard Florida speak saw TREO introduce its board members and give its annual awards.
TREO’s board has lots of gray hair and includes no one under the age of 40. The two award winners, while deserving of the honors, also sport gray hair; neither is under 50.
In short, it was the usual suspects, and the inference was that young people need not apply.
Having heard Florida’s message, the economic development community is abuzz with the idea of Tucson evolving to take advantage of its creative class.
The trickiest part of all this will be the community walking the talk, by bringing young, creative-minded people into the fold.