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Published: Thursday, 11/13/2003

Tolerance now a part of economic equation

Richard Florida is the rock star of economic development.

His best-selling book, The Rise of the Creative Class, won a 2002 Washington Monthly Political Book Award, and is still going strong. Last month, the cover story of Governing magazine (the bureaucrats bible) reported that “economic development officials around the country have been snapping up copies” of this big-buzz book.

Mr. Florida is a professor at Pittsburgh s Carnegie Mellon University, but flies around a lot speaking and consulting. On Friday, he s speaking at the Toledo Museum of Art during the public debut of a city arts-and-culture plan.

So what is Richard Florida saying that so shakes up the Old Guard? Simple: “Today, more than ever, our economy is driven by human creativity.”

The old economy - manufacturing and service jobs - is shriveling, as too many corroded Midwest cities prove. The future depends on nurturing the new, knowledge-based economy, dominated by the so-called creative class.

“Creatives” are unlike any other group. Untethered to such antique ideas as corporate loyalty, they look instead for a sense of place. As Mr. Florida puts it, the Three Ts are paramount for revving any city s economic engine: technology, talent, and tolerance.

Tolerance, it turns out, can be best gauged when people look at a city and ask, “How gay is that?” Community openness to gays, Mr. Florida writes, “is a good indicator of the low entry barriers to human capital that are so important to spurring creativity. ...”

Accordingly, Cincinnati s leading corporate resident, staid Procter & Gamble, actively supports repeal of Article 12, which keeps Cincy s council from enacting any law forbidding discrimination based on sexual orientation.

A P&G executive explained in Governing: “We recruit employees fresh out of college. They think Cincinnati is not inclusive and that it could be a reflection that we re an intolerant community. That doesn t appeal to Generation Y.”

In a phone interview, Mr. Florida s blunt call for a dramatic shift in thinking and attitude perhaps previewed Friday s speech.

“You need a political and a business leadership willing to take risks and break with the past. In community across community across the Midwest, there s an inability to do that. When they still take their meetings in private clubs, you know there s a problem.”

And if we can t get out of our rut?

“If leadership refuses to change, and if it continues to take its lead from the historic cultural institutions and economic base, you will die.”

Oh, and quit with the “great place to raise a family” mantra.

“A community can no longer prosper by saying, We re good for families. Families come in a variety of shapes and sizes. If you re competing for the traditional nuclear family, that s only 23 percent of our demography.”

The Mayor s Summit at TMA runs from noon to 2 p.m. Friday. It s free, but register to attend by calling 419-245-1494.



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