Thursday, May 06, 2010

Five things we need to focus on... to build a Creative Class

I always used to believe if you write something down, it makes it real. I must have a million thoughts that go through my head each day, but unless it is written down, it never seems to get attention. So, here I am writing down what I believe we need to focus on to build a strong creative class in Sarasota, Florida.

1. SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT. Any city looking to attract and retain creative minds, needs to offer a dynamic social environment. Entrepreneurs live where they want to, and rarely does economics come into play when choosing the place to start a company. Since a startup doesn't need much office space, tax incentives are meaningless, and funding is far and few between - the one thing that matters most is quality of life. Everything from a strong arts and culture base to a dynamic night life come into play - but more importantly they need to connect with social circles of other creative minds to truly feel at home.

2. A SALES PITCH. Building a city is not much different than building a business. You have a product, a budget and you need to find a market to sell. Sarasota is unique, because it has an awesome product - the beach. But it also has a bunch of secondary products that have tremendous value - strong arts community, economic assets like Mote, Ringling College, etc... and also has a rising "startup culture". However, we don't have a strong sales pitch. Our messaging is fragmented and for the most part very weak. We need to have a cohesive pitch and target the creative class... otherwise we can't close the deal.

3. INFRASTRUCTURE. Such a broad term, so let me be more specific. We need to build the 21st century highway - Fiber and Wireless networks. If we want to attract tech entrepreneurs, we need to give them the one thing they need more than anything - BANDWIDTH. Our city currently has two providers but they focus mostly on connecting homes, not businesses. And the current offering to businesses is not enough. We need to have 1GIG+ connectivity in designated zones to attract entrepreneurs. 

4. LEADERSHIP. Our current leadership was spawned from an economy based on tourism and real estate development. If we want to attract the creative class, we need to represent the creative class in leadership positions related to economic development. What if roles were reversed??? Would we have 10 artists on the EDC Board - if we wanted to attract Real Estate developers?

5. LEVERAGE EXISTING ASSETS.  It seems like every time the topic of Economic Development comes up - the conversation quickly becomes a "We need X, and We need Y" argument.  Instead of taking an honest look at what assets we have, and thinking "creatively" - we are always coming up with excuses what we can't.  For example - "We need a convention center if we want to attract conferences." - NO, we don't. We have the ability to host conferences with existing assets - we just need to be creative and re-invent how a conference can be done. We need to stop trying to be like other cities, and just be ourselves, and work with what we got.

I always believe its more important to prove a point... so here are three projects I have been involved in that have been highly effective and demonstrate some of the points above.

1. I LOVE DOWNTOWN ( - a campaign to unite downtown merchants and to market to locals and tourists the great experiences we have in downtown Sarasota. The campaign included posters around the city, a strong social media campaign, and promotions.  It's an example, of how a strong sales pitch and marketing campaign can help hundreds of businesses.

2. GOOGLE ISLAND ( - a campaign to compete for Google Fiber network. Thousands of cities applied to be considered for the Google Fiber Network rollout, and Sarasota was able to grab national attention through a very powerful campaign. The goal was to market Sarasota as an innovative city, but also fight for better broadband.

3. VINYL FESTIVAL ( - a music festival launched in 2009 for social development. The primary goal is to attract young entrepreneurs and the creative class. The music festival brings talented artists to the area, helps local businesses during the slow season (Summer) and puts Sarasota on the map as a hip/cool location for music lovers.

In summary - If we want to attract Creative people, we need to be Creative.


Jeff Hazelton said...

All Excellent points Rich, particularly #4 and #1. Time for some more seats at the table and for creative minds to band together to elevate our social scene. The only thing better than your ideas, and you writing them down is the example you set in your everyday actions. I can tell these are your ideas because you live by them. Keep it up brother.

Gayle said...

So, let's talk. What do we do about #4 Leadership? We've got a core of active creatives. Who wants to step forward so we can get them placed on key committees?