Creative Class Connections

It has been a dozen years or more since I wrote a book report, but I feel compelled to share some thoughts from Richard Florida’s The Rise of the Creative Class, Revisited. I had the opportunity to read the book on a flight to and from a course required for my economic development certification, and I found myself demarcating several passages that apply to the work we’re trying to do here in Marble Falls.

First, here’s a little background on Florida’s Creative Class concept, if you’re not already familiar.

Unlike those employed in the agriculture industry, the Service Class (food prep and service, personal care, administrative support, health-care support, etc.), and the Working Class (construction, maintenance, production, etc.), Florida distinguishes the Creative Class as being those people “whose function is to ‘create meaningful new forms.’” By trade, members of the Creative Class can be creative professionals—employed in management, finance, law, and medicine—or part of the super-creative core comprised of architects, engineers, scientists, mathematicians, educators, and artists.

Statistically speaking, the Service Class is the largest class today with about 60 million workers, or 47 percent of the US workforce. The Working Class is made up of about 26 million members, or roughly 21 percent of the workforce. The Creative Class makes up the remaining third of the workforce, with more than 41 million Americans. By comparison, the breakdown of classes fifty years ago was 16% Creative, 38% Service, and 46% Working. While declines in manufacturing and production are obvious and well-documented, the relationship between increases in the Service Class and the Creative Class is more nuanced.

Florida notes that the “growth of this Service Class is in large measure a response to the demands of the Creative Economy,” and that the Creative Class—through specialization and division of labor—has outsourced some of its functions to the Service Class. Florida also notes, however, that the Service Class has the potential for high upward mobility because of their penchant for entrepreneurism. So, while many communities face the challenge of a widening gap between the haves and the have-nots, along with the hollowing out of the Working Class in spite of tremendous efforts to bring back manufacturing, Florida sees “growth in creative content” across a wide spectrum of jobs.

What this means for the economic viability of Marble Falls, and many other communities across the country, is that we need to find a way to make Service Class jobs good jobs, in part by harnessing the creative capacity of all people. The amenities that we appreciate and hope to share with others are clearly not as appealing without good people in service positions. We need hospitable people who can think critically and creatively about problems and how to solve them. We need service providers who care about their jobs, and we need everyone to treat service interactions as important interactions. Gradual yet measurable increases in Service Class wages—especially considering that these workers make up such a large (and growing) percentage of the workforce—could mean a stabilization of our economy.

Manufacturing jobs were not good jobs until after World War II, when the US made a concerted effort to put people to work in productive industries. A similar effort (this time, with the benefit of some hindsight) should be made to increase the value of the service industry; after all, it is the only class that has increased in number and percentage of the workforce in every decade since the 19th century.

A final connection I want to make between Florida’s thoughts and what’s happening in Marble Falls has to do with what he sees as the establishment of the Creative Economy in the 1960s. Florida writes: “Bohemian values met the Protestant work ethic head-on, and the two more than survived the collision. They morphed into a new work ethic—the creative ethos—steeped in the cultivation of creativity.”

I think that all of us in Marble Falls can relate to an environment where traditional, small-town values collide with a progressive urbanism that seeks to capitalize on our community’s assets. Our success in economic development is dependent upon our ability to facilitate growth that enhances our community’s character and charm without being limited to only doing things the way they’ve always been done.