A New Brand for Tucson

Maybe GTEC should put gays, geeks and freaks on its new logo.

In Robert Downey Sr.'s film Putney Swope, an outrageous parody on the advertising world, a consultant in a Mensa-emblazoned black leather biker's vest is hustled from a New York City heliport to a boardroom where he delivers a supercilious Freudian monologue on the beer drinker.

"For men, a glass of beer is pee-pee dickie," he opined before bouncing importantly away. A bewildered executive asks, "We paid for that?"

Such sentiment might have been appropriate when the Greater Tucson Economic Council (GTEC), the agency charged with creating more jobs in the region, released research from its local ad firm this summer.

The ad people queried 1,200 executives by e-mail and conducted 50 interviews locally to get a grip on how to coax more high techies to Tucson.

The survey revealed three keys to high tech promotion: business climate, availability of skilled labor and sites for facilities. It was a "recycling day" moment. This is the paradigm touted by every economic development agency since day one. And by GTEC. Just check its Web site.

Steve Weathers, CEO of GTEC, put his best spin on this received wisdom by telling the Arizona Daily Star that the results will be embedded into the agency's marketing messages.

At its board meeting on October 23, GTEC will unveil a nearly yearlong effort by its ad people to come up with a logo and a slogan to endow the Old Pueblo with a high-tech patina. In the patois of ad-speak, this process is called "branding."

Does Tucson suffer from a case of "Silicon Somewhere" envy? If so, there is no cure in promoting a business-friendly "suburban model" of office complexes and free parking, according to Richard Florida, a professor of regional economic development at Carnegie Mellon University. Florida says that regions have to cater to the dominant driving force in the new economy: creative minds.

Florida articulates a theory of creative capital for nurturing high technology growth in his book, The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life (Basic Books).

His formula for high-tech success is to build a "world-class people climate" that attracts and retains what he dubs the "creative class." It is this class that flourishes in regions that feature what he calls "lifestyle amenities," and in environments that are political and socially tolerant and culturally diverse.

The creative class is made up of two segments: creators, such as scientists, engineers, professors, artists, writers and architects, and those that use creativity to solve problems, such as professionals in the legal, health and financial fields and in business management.

The creative class has grown from 17 percent in 1950 to 30 percent of today's workforce. Its influence is in the productivity of ideas and new forms, not just the conspicuous consuming of so-called Bobos (bourgeois bohemians), the latte-sipping tribe of aging yuppies described by journalist David Brooks in his book, Bobos in Paradise.

In mapping out what he calls the "geography of creativity," Florida undertook rigorous number-crunching using census data and labor department statistics to arrive at a series of indexes that measure a region's creativity and prospects for high-tech growth.

So here's a code for the road that will certify that you are in a creatively charged zone: gays and bohemians.

Richard Florida calls gays the "the canaries of the creative economy." He found that a gay index, the concentration of gay couples in a region, was the strongest indicator of a region's high tech success.

Likewise for a bohemian index. The percentage of artistically creative people in the population strongly correlates as a forecaster of employment growth.

But recruiting more gays and bohemians to a region would not engender high-tech development. These groups signal that a region has a milieu and the amenities that appeal strongly to members of the creative class.

The core of Florida's theory of creative capital lies in his three T's: technology, talent and tolerance. A region needs all three to flourish as a creative vortex.

A region's technology base is underpinned by a creative hub, a vibrant research university. The region has to be a place that attracts and retains talented people and that offers myriad "street-level" amenities, not just big-ticket items like stadiums, museums and concert halls. A tolerance of diversity is a requisite for a flux of creative types open to new experiences and ideas.

For a street-level experience of diversity in Tucson, take a stroll down Fourth Avenue where execs and students, gays, geeks and freaks mingle on the street and drift into their befitting boites.

In order to gauge a region's creative capabilities and potential for high-tech growth, Florida developed a "creativity index." This index is comprised of four equally-weighted indexes: a high-tech index using a renowned technology industry rating system; a creative class index based on the share of the creative class in the population; an innovation index (patents per capita); and a diversity index (the gay index).

The most creative communities in Florida's rankings are San Francisco, Austin, Boston, San Diego and Seattle, with Albuquerque coming in a surprising eighth.

Phoenix ranks 22nd. Last year, the Greater Phoenix Economic Council underwrote Florida's appearance at its annual economic summit. He spun around the valley and cited Mesa as model creative community.

How does Tucson fare among 268 regions? The region is ranked 18th as a high-tech center; 49th in diversity (the gay index); 60th in innovation and 96th in creative class with a 28.40 percent share of creative people in the workforce. When these indexes are averaged, Tucson places third among regions with populations of 500,000 to 1 million, and 31st in the overall national ranking.

When it comes to investing in a people-climate, Tucson is fiscally strained. The University of Arizona is in a budget squeeze. The Tucson-Pima Arts Council has had to lobby vigorously to avoid a proposed second 10 percent cut in its funding. Half of the classrooms in Tucson schools lack air-conditioning. And transportation policy is in disarray after voters sank a ballot proposition last spring.

Meanwhile, there is no flatlining at GTEC. The agency will boost its spending on marketing by 70 percent in 2003. And some of this cash will go to touting a new logo and slogan to burnish Tucson high-tech.

Perhaps GTEC should follow in the footsteps of its counterpart in Phoenix and invite Richard Florida down for a look-in. With or without a slogan, his take would be that fortune favors a community that invests in its capabilities for creativity.

Get hip to that, and high-tech jobs will follow.

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