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Courting the creative class

June 1, 2011
By Richard Clark , Daily Press

ESCANABA - Years ago I was in a coffee shop near the Cable Car Museum in San Francisco. It was apparent by the conversation around me that the barista and the young woman sitting next to me were seniors at an San Francisco art school.

The young woman said she would be a commercial artist. When asked where, she said she preferred to stay in San Francisco, but could not afford price of space in which to live or work in San Francisco.

She told me that where she could work was not a problem so long as high speed Internet was available.

Article Photos

Richard Clark

I thought about how talented and creative people might be attracted to Escanaba, some of whom would be returning home.

Bresnan Communications, predecessor to Charter, brought high speed cable connections to Escanaba early in the Internet age. Wireless high speed Internet is now accessible in Escanaba's downtown and nearby neighborhoods through DSTECH., and Escanaba has lots of spaces.

Fast forward to last week. Escanaba council members and City Manager Jim O'Toole discussed the future of Escanaba taking into account the constraints of the current fiscal situation.

Mr. O'Toole said he would submit a comprehensive plan on or before Sept. 1, 2011. Mr. O'Toole's timetable is admirable, especially for someone who is already working at 110 percent, plus.

I cannot help but feel that Escanaba's future is related to my aha moment in that San Francisco coffee house. Escanaba provides high speed Internet access and has space, lots of space. According to one researcher Escanaba's natural resources that provide hiking, cycling, water sports and winter activities attract knowledge-based workers, the vanguard of the economy.

In "The Rise of the Creative Class" Richard Florida said economic growth is tied to a region's ability to attract what he calls the "creative class." Business follows talented knowledge-based workers.

In "Field of Dreams" Kevin Costner built a baseball diamond in a corn field and a former Chicago Black Sox team came to play ball. Instead of this build it and they will come, Florida claimed that a region must attract talent first and business will follow the talent.

Florida maintained that economic growth is achieved by attracting knowledge-based workers - educators, health care professionals, business people, finance people, scientists, engineers. Business then gravitates to regions that attract creative people.

If Mr. Florida's creative class is attracted by access to hiking, water sports, skiing and cycling, Escanaba has a leg up on other communities. This group also like coffee houses, no doubt for the caffeine kick, and entertainment that fuels their high energy work styles.

Because they work night and day they need access to those coffee houses and music venues at all hours. Escanaba has a ways to go in this area.

In the 1950s citizens of Roseto, Penn., would not have appreciated life styles of the "creative class."

In "Outliers: The Story of Success" Malcolm Gladwell wrote about Roseto. Rosetans came from Italy. They worked in Bangor, Pa., quarry. Rosetans started their own community near Bangor. It looked a lot like the town of their ancestors in Roseto Valfortore, Italy.

In the 1950s a doctor discovered that the people of Roseto didn't develop heart disease, ulcers, alcoholism or drug addiction. He searched for the reason. It wasn't genetics, their Italian relatives suffered from heart disease. It wasn't the food. Rosetans ate fat. It wasn't exercise either.

The doctor found that the Roseto life style promoted good health. The 2,000 Rosetans belonged 22 civic organizations. They attended Mass together and and took time to visit with each other. They supported each other from the whims of modern culure.

The June 16, 1980, People magazine said that Roseto fragmented. Rosetans now get heart disease.

In the mid 1990s Engineered Machined Products placed emphasis on research and development. It attracted talent in fluid mechanics, engine design, knowledge-based workers.

The future belongs to Rosetos, but to some iteration of the "creative class."


EDITOR'S NOTE - Richard Clark, Escanaba, practices personal injury law throughout the Upper Peninsula. He can be reached at



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