Is the Creative Class Overrated?

The creative class, a term coined by Richard Florida in his trendy bestseller "The Rise of the Creative Class," refers to hip, out-of-the-box 20-somethings who create vibrant markets wherever they drink lattes and plug in their computers. Since his book came out in 2002, just about every city across the country has started wooing this demographic group.

But Joel Kotkin, the author and researcher behind Inc. Magazine's 2004 "Top 25 U.S. Cities for Doing Business," in which Sarasota-Bradenton was ranked the third best medium-sized city for its business climate, says the importance of the creative class may be overrated when it comes to Sarasota-Manatee's economy.

Kotkin, a fellow at Pepperdine's Davenport Institute for Public Policy, says boosters who are courting the young and creative are missing the boat. In reviewing Sarasota-Bradenton's demographic trends for the Inc. story, he found the two population groups that are increasingly drawn to Florida are those in their early to mid-30s, and young retirees in their early 50s. Those are the groups that are fueling much of the region's growth, he says, and keeping its economy so vibrant.

"Florida is no longer a place to go to die. It's more a place where people go to build a life. Places like Florida don't even understand why they are growing," says Kotkin. "I do find it astounding that these places are so blind to their own strength."

Affordability, ease of life, and entrepreneurial opportunities draw those in their 30s, with or without children, who are ready for a more stable lifestyle, while "people in their 50s are retiring but they are not really retiring. People are starting a second life," says Kotkin. Several Florida cities made Inc.'s top 25 as some of the best large and medium-sized metro areas for doing business based on employment growth over a broad range of industries. Sarasota-Bradenton received one of the highest rankings because of its consistent growth rate over the past 10 years. While local business and professional services grew by an astonishing 30 percent from 1998-2003, information technology, wholesale trade, financial services and even manufacturing also grew steadily during a time when other parts of the country suffered job losses in those sectors.

Kotkin says it's essential to "understand who's coming and who's leaving" if the area wants to continue its enviable growth.

"The real drivers are affordability and job opportunity. I'd worry less about the 20-year-olds and more about the 30-year-olds. I'd worry more about that than being hip and cool."

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