Tempe covets 'Creative Class' - East Valley Tribune: News

Tempe covets 'Creative Class'

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Posted: Saturday, May 24, 2003 11:48 pm | Updated: 1:43 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

They're young. They're often drawn to Buddy Holly-type glasses or yoga.

They think for a living and they're paid well for it, pulling in $50,000 or more a year.

Typically, these workers in the so-called "Creative Class" look to live in Northern California or even Austin, Texas. But could Tempe be the next big draw?

Leaders here hope that a Perfect Storm of upcoming developments from light rail to the Arizona State University Biodesign Institute will infuse the downtown area with life and thought. Then the young and the hip (and especially the well-paid) could well infuse the local economy with renewed punch, gobbling up new urban condos and apartments near downtown, creating more demand for arts and entertainment, late-night venues and sporting events at Town Lake and beyond. Some call them yuppies, some "bourgeois bohemians."

But the Creative Class — estimated at about 30 percent of the work force and growing — are highly educated, often single, don't keep regular hours and value individuality and creativity. The term was solidified last year after economist Richard Florida's successful book, "The Rise of the Creative Class."

Florida is not the first to argue that we're in the midst of an economy based on knowledge and ideas. But he has been paid many a dollar from civic leaders to explain how to lure in this finicky class through the three T's: Tolerance, talent and technology. He writes that cities that embrace gays and true artisans — maybe even people with tattoo sleeves or strategic piercings — will lure in other members of the Creative Class who find that atmosphere interesting and inviting.

Companies and jobs, in turn, will locate where those coveted workers want to live. One of his articles was even subtitled: "Why cities without gays and rock bands are losing the economic development race." He ranks the Valley 19th among major regions in his creativity index, which looks at what type of jobs and people are found in an area.

Yet some early members of Tempe's Creative Class said they are here because they already see a distinct atmosphere:

Maria and Forest Brown, both 34, work for the 1,300-person Tempe branch of Medtronic Inc., a biotech firm. She's a webmaster; he's an electrical engineer.

They both say they wouldn't dream of living in new housing divisions on the edges of the Valley.

"We absolutely hate that," Forest Brown said. "I just have an aversion to these suburbs where the houses all look identical. I would never live in a homeowners association."

They frequently go to Tempe Town Lake, a Tempe rock climbing gym and the ethnic restaurants near downtown. Tempe is one of the Valley's most diverse cities, they say, and they want their 3-year-old son to grow up around different kinds of people.

A giant rhinoceros hangs above Jeff Giek's desk. He's the CEO of Rhino Internet Solutions and Rhino Staging and Event Solutions, where employees can use a rock-climbing wall or one of two XBox games during breaks.

Giek's office looks over the new site for Tempe's Performing Arts Center, set to break ground next year. Some of his employees are excited about it, he said — even though they are engineers and graphics designers, many have theater backgrounds. He chose Tempe partly for its amenities.

At Sitewire, another Internet consulting firm based in downtown Tempe, the office has a shower for employees who run along Town Lake during lunch breaks. Bret Giles said he and a co-founder chose Tempe when they split off from a larger technology firm in 1999 because they realized they enjoyed themselves when they were in downtown Tempe.

"When I didn't work in Tempe, I was always coming to Tempe for various reasons," he said. "Our clients, or anyone we do business with, anytime we were thinking about getting together they always wanted to come here."

Caution: Those wacky, creative workers who start up successful small businesses won't arrive immediately along with the bioscience research, said Tom Trotter, president and CEO of Tempe-based biotech firm OrthoLogic. The Biodesign Institute and other research programs "are fantastic things, but they are not products for next week next month or next year. They're products for several years down the road," he said.

Tempe already is a young town, with an average age of 28.8 compared to the average 34.2 years old throughout the state.

About 32.5 percent of the population is between 24 and 44 years old, according to the 2000 Census. And 42.6 percent of the population makes between $50,000 and $75,000. Yet some say it's not too early to plan for the Creative Class. Florida points out that these types often will move to a place for its culture and then carve out a job niche.

Tempe's 2002 Performance Report mentions Florida's theory specifically and notes that: "Tempe is a place that does not care about who your family is or where you came from, but values individuals for the talents they bring to the community. Power is diffuse and diverse. Elected officials are white, brown, female, gay, young and young-at-heart."

The Creative Class

"Super-Creative" professions producing ideas that can be made, sold or used:

-- Scientists

-- Engineers

-- Professors

-- Poets/Novelists

-- Artists/Entertainers

-- Designers

-- Nonfiction writers

"Creative" professions that use daily problem-solving:

-- High-tech workers

-- Financial services

-- Lawyers

-- Health care professionals

-- Business managers

Source: "The Rise of the Creative Class," by Richard Florida

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