22 January, 2010

22 Jan. 2010 -STARDA ,Economic Development, Alban Arts and Conference Center, Creative Class, Tri-State Talk With Bobby Nelson, The Corporation

Higginbotham At Large Friday 22 January 2010:

In This Issue:

- Misused Expression of the Week: "Economic Development"

- “The Corporation”

- Q&A On My Wednesday Appearance On “Tri-State Talk” hosted by former WV legislator and former Huntington mayor, Bobby Nelson.

Misused Expression Of The Week: “Economic Development”

There are only two ways for a city, county or state to accomplish “economic development”. One way is by transfer of wealth from one region to another. Too often in human history the transfer of wealth was accomplished by war or by good old fashioned sacking and pillaging but these days it’s more often accomplished by figuring out how to get people who live in, say, Kanawha County, to spend their money in Putnam County or vice versa or figuring out a way to get Kentuckians to spend their money in West Virginia or vice versa. Let’s say I build a huge shopping mall in, say, Putnam County and drain off shopping dollars from Charleston’s Town Center Mall and from Barboursville’s Huntington Mall. I have created jobs, increased the tax base and performed economic development in Putnam County but I’ve done so at the expense of other parts of the state so it’s a zero-sum game. A shopping mall in Putnam County doesn’t create new wealth it simply transfers wealth from one area to another. Even if it could be proven that shoppers in the Cabell-Putnam-Kanawha corridor go to more movies, eat more meals at restaurants, and buy more stuff, the shopping mall pie didn’t get larger it simply got sliced up into three pieces instead of two. Nothing was done to give the spenders more discretionary dollars to spend. The shoppers who made $X before the new mall was built are still making the same salary. Were new jobs created? Yes, in Putnam County but chances are that jobs were lost in Charleston and Huntington so, overall, the economic pie was not made larger, the pie is simply being sliced more ways and smaller pieces are being redistributed.

The second and better way to accomplish economic development is to discover or invent and then monetize something that was previously not discovered, invented or monetized. When The Beverly Hillbillies discovered oil on their land, this oil was previously undiscovered, previously unmonetized new wealth. When Apple co-founder, Steve Wozniak, built the computer that was small enough and cheap enough to, in effect, prove his concept that one day small, inexpensive personal computers would be in most people’s homes and change the world, he invented and monetized something that was previously nonexistent and unmonetized. He not only created new wealth for Apple but he made it possible for individuals and businesses everywhere to work more efficiently and create new wealth.

Someone asked me the other day if I approved of St. Albans Mayor, Dick Callaway and STARDA’s (St. Albans Regional Development Authority) purchase of the old Alban Theater and turning it into the Alban Arts and Convention Center. I said that the Alban has the potential to be an important first step in attracting the creative class a known engine of economic development and growth.

If you haven’t had a chance to read any of Dr. Richard Florida’s books or see the speech he made at George Mason University (occasionally shown on PBS) then you may not know that the old economic development model (workers go where the employers are) has been replaced by a new model – employers go where the creative class is.

A creative class worker is any worker with the skills and technology to live and work pretty much anywhere that there’s internet access and cell phone coverage. A creative class worker isn’t tethered to a certain employer, plant or office building. Because of cell phone technology, the internet and his skills, the creative class worker can create music or computer apps almost anywhere on the planet. These high autonomy professionals get to choose where they live and spend so cities must become places where the creative class wants to live.

Yes, of course I’m aware that Richard Florida has his detractors who say “creative class” is just another way of saying that America’s middle class manufacturing based economy is being replaced by a knowledge based economy, something we’ve known for decades. But even if “creative class” is interchangeable with “knowledge workers” – which it isn’t, exactly – this observation doesn’t negate the mounting evidence that cities and regions which become places where the creative class wants to live and work are the cities and regions that experience the kind of economic development that actually makes the economic pie bigger.

Ask Pittsburgh about the high cost of not becoming the kind of place where the creative class wants to live and work. As Richard Florida said in his televised speech at George Mason University, Pittsburgh lost a company it birthed – Lycos – and the thousands of jobs that went with it when Lycos relocated to Boston because Boston already had the creative class workers they couldn’t recruit to Pittsburgh. For those of you who don’t know, Lycos was a search engine before Google reinvented search engines.

I was one of the original incorporators of STARDA back in 1990 and I think STARDA’s and Mayor Callaway’s purchase of the old Alban theater could be a small first step in making St. Albans the kind of place that can compete for creative class brains. It turns out that the creative class wants to live in places where there is a vibrant arts and entertainment community and a “night life”. Remember, creative class workers are highly autonomous, don’t have an 8-5 job and just might want to see a movie at midnight or go to supper or a play or hear some live music at 2AM.

In addition, it turns out that cities that attract and retain the creative class are cities with great racial, ethnic, religious and generational diversity.

I could elaborate but I’m hoping some of my readers will go get some of Richard Florida’s books and read for themselves why some cities grow and others shrink under the new economic development model. Find out why West Virginia’s PROMISE scholarship program is a step in the right direction. Find out why The Republic of Ireland has long been a tax haven for certain creatives. Find out why Lycos left Pittsburgh and went to Boston.

Find out why bringing arts and entertainment to Main Street in St. Albans may do much more than just transfer a few convention and entertainment dollars from surrounding towns.

Imagine a St. Albans where the next Apple or the next Google or the next Microsoft is founded. A little town like St. Albans might be only one Steve Wozniak or one Steve Jobs or one Bill Gates from becoming the engine of West Virginia’s economy.

“The Corporation”

The Supreme Court’s decision to let corporations spend as much as they want to buy elections led to some interesting discussion about what a corporation is and how we got them at last night’s Drinking Liberally meeting. While we waited for the Kennedy-Blankenship debate to come on TV, we talked about a film I’ve long encouraged everyone to see called “The Corporation.” It’s based on the book, The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power by Joel Bakan. I mentioned that I own a copy of The Corporation on DVD and that if we can find a venue at which to show the film, perhaps we should show it at a future DL meeting.

When I lived in Lexington my friend, Richard Mitchell, was showing The Corporation at The Lexington Public Library to crowds that were surprisingly large considering that Richard didn’t have an advertising budget and most of the attendees heard about these public showings through word of mouth. The film runs 2 and a half hours, by the way, so if we were to show it we might have to do so over two or more nights as Richard Mitchell did in Lexington.

But Charleston DLers who wish to see the film may not have to wait for a public showing. You can now download The Corporation at http://www.thecorporation.com/index.cfm?page_id=23.

Q&A On My Wednesday Appearance On “Tri-State Talk” hosted by former WV legislator and former Huntington mayor, Bobby Nelson.

A few of my regular readers have asked me some questions about my Wednesday appearance on what I believe to be the only live, local, liberal talk show in West Virginia, “Tri-State Talk” with former Huntington mayor and former WV legislator, Bobby Nelson.

Q. “Is there a podcast of the show?”

A. No. The show’s producer barked in our headphones that there was some kind of technical problem that prevented him from recording the show so there won’t be a podcast. Sorry.

Q. Did you get any conservative callers?

A. No. This was my second appearance on Mayor Nelson’s show and we didn’t get conservative callers either time I’ve been on. We did, however, get calls from liberals who want me to help them start a Drinking Liberally group in Huntington. I am in touch with these folks and have assured them that if they will get a group of people together for an “organizational meeting” I’ll be happy to come back to Huntington, answer their questions, tell them more about DL and put on a little “workshop” about how to get started. On a personal note, I think Huntington might be a better place to start a DL than Charleston was because the liberals are lonelier. And, of course, they can probably depend on Mayor Nelson to give them some PR during his 3:05 to 4PM radio show on WRVC 930AM and 94.1 FM.

By the way, if conservatives don’t call Mayor Nelson’s show it isn’t because he would mistreat them the way conservative talk show hosts mistreat liberals who call their shows. Mayor Nelson believes in civil, informed discussion, which is why his talk show would succeed in markets where bombastic liberal talk shows have failed. You see, liberals don’t want talk shows that mirror the bombast and incivility of the big name conservative talkers like Limbaugh, Hannity and Savage. Liberals wouldn’t support a liberal talk show host who calls conservatives names, yells at conservatives and then hangs up on conservatives. And liberals don’t need constant validation of their views. Liberals want to listen to talk shows where issues and current events are civilly discussed from all angles. Huntingtonians of all political stripes will feel welcome on Mayor Nelson’s show as long as they keep it friendly and polite.

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