Are families important after all?


Richard Florida has received a lot of press recently for his new book about the "creative class" and how a city prospers when it is a place that the creative class wants to be. There was a review of his book in the first issue of The Next American City.

In the latest issue of American Enterprise, Joel Kotkin questions some of Florida's assumptions, and observes that most of the growth today is occurring in family-friendly and business-friendly regions, like southern California's Inland Empire:

Alvarez, who bought his Ford-Lincoln agency seven years ago and added a Jaguar dealership last year, has boosted his sales from ten cars per month in the mid 1990s to 114 a month now. He credits most of his success, and that of the other 15 dealers at the Riverside Auto Center, to the remarkable demographic and business growth that has made the Riverside-San Bernardino region of Southern California into arguably the strongest regional economy in the nation. Since June 2001, this highly suburban region east of Los Angeles, known locally as the Inland Empire—with a population exceeding 3 million people—has enjoyed annual job growth of over 3 percent.

No other area of the country of comparable size has experienced anything like this rate of job creation during the current soft economy. According to, California’s overall job numbers fell by 0.2 percent during the same period (driven largely by a rapid collapse of the over-inflated, over-hyped tech sector in the San Francisco Bay area), while the national rate dropped by a full percentage point.

The striking success of the Inland Empire—and the poor performance of places like San Francisco and other glamour economies of the late ’90s such as New York City, Boston, and Seattle—sharply rebuts recent conventional media wisdom on the underpinnings of economic growth. In the late 1990s, a trendy argument launched by academics and propagated by journalists held that future economic growth depended on attracting high-technology workers and affluent yuppies. It was said that this in turn would happen only in places with lots of graduate students, artists, bohemians, homosexuals, and unmarried singles packed into a vertical city with loads of nightlife. In other words, places exactly the opposite of the sprawling, highly familial, lower-bourgeois Inland Empire....

Kotkin identifies a number of growth cities that don't fit the "Creative City" mold -- not only family-friendly, but more accommodating to business, and less wedded to high-tech.

America’s new growth spots tend to be economies centered around basic industries like construction, distribution, retail, and low-tech manufacturing. This can be seen in the relative success of such diverse economies as Portland, Maine; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; and McAllen, Texas. Some tech centers—like Boise, Raleigh, Austin, and Provo—also rank as family-friendly locales, with well-above-average rates of married-with-children households.

In addition to being much more family friendly places, today’s growth regions tend to differ from fashionable but economically lagging parts of the Northeast and coastal California in another way: They have different attitudes toward business and enterprising. Places like the Inland Empire are very friendly toward founders and builders of business establishments. In these places, expansion is regarded by citizens, local government, and regional media much more as a good thing than as a source of problems. That attitude is reversed in many more culturally liberal regions—and in the national media.

Tulsa seems to fit this description to a T -- so why aren't we prospering in the same way as Provo and McAllen? Kotkin doesn't say, but I'll suggest that Oklahoma is not as friendly toward capital formation and job creation as it needs to be, and that's a change that can only be made at the State Capitol, by modifying our tax and regulatory regimes.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on July 1, 2003 1:10 AM.

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