In the future, some areas will thrive. Others will wither.

We all know that. What we don't know is why some areas will have better futures than others.

According to Richard Florida, a professor of regional economic development at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, the future looks good for San Francisco and Austin but worrisome for Las Vegas and Memphis. Las Vegas, the fastest growing city in America that isn't on our border with Mexico, might beg to differ with Professor Florida but the reasons he gives are worth our attention. (See list of the top and bottom ten areas with populations of at least one million below.)

  
The Top Ten Creative Areas with Populations of at least 1 million The Bottom Ten Creative Areas with Populations of at least 1 million
The most, and least, creative areas as ranked by an index that considers area ranking by population of creative class workers, high technology, innovation, and population diversity.
San Francisco Memphis
Austin Norfolk, VA
San Diego Las Vegas
Boston Buffalo
Seattle Louisville
Raleigh-Durham Grand Rapids, MI
Houston New Orleans
Washington-Baltimore Oklahoma City
New York Greensboro, NC
Dallas Providence, RI
Source: The Rise of the Creative Class, pg. 246-7
  

In a new book, "The Rise of the Creative Class" (Basic Books, HB, $27.50) Professor Florida observes that creative jobs in science, art, media, research, and technology now dominate our economy. They are not only changing how we work and live. They are also changing where we work and live.

The numbers are compelling. From only 3 million people and 10 percent of the workforce in 1900, a group he defines as the Creative Class has ballooned to 38 million workers and 30 percent of the workforce today. During the same period, the proportion of people he defines as working class peaked at 40 percent of the workforce in 1920. Working class jobs today account for only 26 percent of the workforce. During the same period agricultural workers fell from 37 percent and virtually disappeared.

But what about our vaunted service economy?

It isn't what it used to be. Although it surged from 20 percent of employment in 1900 to more than 40 percent of the workforce by 1980, the proportion of service workers peaked in 1980.

It has been in decline ever since.

What picked up the slack? Creative class workers surged from 20 percent to 30 percent of the workforce during the last twenty years.

This is not a minor trend.

As a result of this shift Professor Florida believes that most of the conventional wisdom about jobs, industrial locations and relocations is obsolete.

Some readers may be tempted to snort at this. I certainly was. I tend to get skeptical when people talk about creativity and make it something separate and special.

That said, the proportion of knowledge and creativity related workers continues to rise. Meanwhile, the proportion of workers involved in traditional extraction, production, distribution, and service work continues to decline. Future growth will depend on rise of knowledge and creativity related workers because the other areas have peaked.

Query: what attracts creative class workers?

What Professor Florida found is that employment tends to grow in areas where the number of creative class workers has hit critical mass. He also found that creative workers are attracted to areas of cultural, social, and ethnic diversity and that sheer city size isn't enough to guarantee the future. While Minneapolis-St. Paul, Los Angeles, Denver, Atlanta, and Chicago could displace Dallas from the number ten spot with a tweak of the index, Albuquerque and Albany top the list of cities with a population of 500,000 to 1 million; Madison, WI and Des Moines, IA top the list of regions with 250,000 to 500,000 people; and Santa Fe, NM and Gainesville, FL top the list of regions with fewer than 250,000 people.

What is the most important thing Professor Florida has to say? Simply this: you can't understand a post-industrial economy if you talk about it with a vocabulary from the industrial age.