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Targeting the Creative Class Online

The creative class – entrepreneurs, designers, scientists, artists, performers, technologists and other knowledge workers – will lead economic growth in future. This thesis, originated by Richard Florida, is a foundation of economic-development practices today and has been discussed previously in Tech Trends (see “Business Retention Means People Retention,” March 10, 2009). Now we are seeing the theory being applied successfully by a growing number of communities.

Such communities have developed strategies to be “talent magnets,” especially for young professionals aged 25 to 44. They have paid attention to Florida’s research showing that any community that wants to improve its economy should look at how it stands with the three T’s of economic development—technology, talent, and tolerance. All are necessary conditions for attracting creative people, generating innovation and stimulating economic growth, according to Florida.

Whether you are fully in agreement with his ideas or not, your investment-attraction strategy needs to take into account the creative class. So does your website and all the communications related to it.

Here are three examples of communities that are successfully putting these ideas into practice.

Austin, Texas

Austin in recent years has made considerable investments in its quality of life. It is an open and tolerant city with lifestyle centers for cycling and outdoor activities, a vibrant downtown community and a thriving music scene. It has a rapidly growing high-tech industrial center that has attracted investments from major companies.

The website of the Austin Chamber of Commerce, http://www.austinchamber.com/DoBusiness/index.html, uses the tag line “Austin, the Human Capital.” It says the city “gets the nod as a young, creative and entrepreneurial city in a dynamic, growing region.” The site has extensive information about green issues, features an online business incubator called the Central Texas Regional Center of Innovation and Commercialization, and links to a related site, www.liveablecity.org, which celebrates public engagement in Austin.

Calgary, Alberta

Thanks to a decade of attracting young, creative and artistic immigrants, Calgary has grown into a haven for the creative class. A survey by Maclean’s magazine in 2008 ranked Calgary the most cultured city in Canada. Now its arts industries and not-for-profit organizations are providing pillars to support the city in the midst of a severe oil and gas recession.

A recently released Economic Development Strategy identified quality of life as a foundation of sustainability for Calgarians. A number of initiatives are planned to support the strategy through websites as well as the new world of social media. The first of these programs is Calgarypedia, www.calgarypedia.com, a wiki-based website launched in October 2008. With content created and maintained by Calgarians, it is serving as a platform to communicate information about the organizations, activities, events, history and stories that position Calgary as an investment location of choice.

Prince Edward County

In southeast Ontario, Prince Edward County is enjoying an economic renaissance by reinventing itself as “Canada’s first creative rural economy.” As described in detail at www.pecounty.on.ca/government/corporate_services/economic_development/index.php, the County’s strategy of exploiting its quality of place and lifestyle attributes has attracted many creative businesses.

Prince Edward County’s investment-attraction site, http://www.buildanewlife.ca/site/, includes links to Facebook, YouTube and Flickr. The site also features a virtual Collaboration Centre where researchers, developers and community members from anywhere in the world can meet to exchange ideas about creative rural economies.

Best Practices

What best practices can be gleaned from the websites of communities that are successfully targeting the creative class?

1. Be different! Recognize that site selectors and businesses are looking at your community as one choice in a sea of options. To stand out you need to consider not just what your community has to offer, but what it offers that is unique, and to reflect that difference on the Web.

2. Involve the community. Locate members of the creative class already in your community, find out who they are, what they read, what they purchase, and what drives their decisions. Use their ideas and experiences in your communications, especially on the web and in social media.

3. Aim carefully at specific targets. Creative economy strategies are not simply focused on recruiting the creative class. They are built upon attracting select sectors, such as digital media, gaming, film and music, graphic and industrial design, and arts manufacturing. Which sub-sectors is your community best positioned to be a magnet for? Focus your creative resources and incentive programs on them, and keep your messages consistent through all media and partner organizations.

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