Memphis Manifesto in New Orleans

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This article appeared in the 28 July 2003 issue of New Orleans City Business. A lot of changes have taken place to the city since I wrote the column. Just this year, it was named one of Fast Company’s Fast Cities 2009. Meanwhile, Richard Florida has written a few more books and switched universities.

Memphis Manifesto Offers N.O. Roadmap to Business Excellence

Guest columnist: Pamela Price

The Memphis Manifesto holds delightful news for New Orleans. Unfortunately, not too many people have heard about it.

In May, 100 professionals from 48 states, Puerto Rico and Canada gathered in Tennessee to craft the “Memphis Manifesto.” It’s a document billed as “the definitive report on transforming cities that want to compete for the creative class–young, mobile professionals–whose presence, or lack thereof… determines the future of American cities.”

Essentially, the manifesto is a call to action for cities such as New Orleans, cities hoping to replicate the sexy appeal of Austin and Boston, cities with robust economies and a high concentration of young professionals.

Richard Florida, a Carnegie Mellon University professor and author of “The Rise of the Creative Class: How It’s Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life,” delivered the keynote address.

Delegates included educators, arts professionals, writers and venture capitalists. An equally eclectic cadre of professionals, from the director of an arts center in Portland, Oregon, to a senior Newsweek writer, served on panels facilitated by Carol Coletta, host of National Public Radio’s new show, “Smart City Radio.”

Florida’s research on young, creative professionals and the increasing importance of environmental factors play in their location decisions was the the foundation for the conference. In his book, New Orleans and Baton Rouge ranked No. 102 and No. 48 overall respectively among cities with an intact creative class. The Crescent City scored 42 out of 49 cities with populations of more than 1 million, and Baton Rouge scored a surprising seventh out of 32 regions with populations between 500,000 and 1 million.

The presence of a diverse populace, an authentic sense of place evident in the architecture and natural environment, cultural tolerance, and thriving, street-level arts and music scenes are all referenced within the manifesto as being attractive features capable of luring creative class members.

Obviously, these are the very attributes that have made New Orleans famous for tourism. The trick is to translate those tourists into local residents and business owners and, of course, taxpayers.

“(In New Orleans), you’ve got lifestyle and (cultural) tolerance out the wazoo,” Florida said. “The key is to build a technology and an economic base. Then you will have no trouble attracting people, because you are a great, fun city. Austin for a long time was a great place to hang out, get a slacker service job, and then the technology thing happened.”

During the summit, there was much talk about how cities should focus on cultivating a homegrown creative class. After all, the tangibles and intangibles that attract newcomers (good schools, receptiveness to outsiders, openness to cultural diversity, a distinctive sense of place) are the same things that stem outmigration.

“Job one is to make New Orleans an easy place to start and grow a business,” Coletta said.

She cites a recent on-air interview with branding expert Mike Moser, author of “United We Brand.”

“I asked him about the nickname, ‘The Big Easy.’ He thinks it has legs and can be stretched to fit business needs. For instance, ‘It’s easy to do business in New Orleans,” she said. “I think Mike has the right idea. New Orleans has such a great funky vibe. Capitalize on it.”

“In my view, southern Louisiana and Rhode Island are two of the only real places left in America,” said Kip Bergstrom, a regional economic expert and popular summit panelist.

By nurturing its resident creative class, New Orleans is capable of transforming itself. First, however, a premium must be placed on professionals for which creativity and innovation are essential.

“Design-based businesses, playing off of whatever pockets of excellence exist at area colleges, are a good to start [cultivating the creative class],” said Bergstrom. “In general, figure out what Tulane and your other institutions are good at and build from there. Get the students more involved in the city so that they stay there and start companies after they graduate. Get more artists. They are the pioneers of the creative class who draw the rest.”

“The number of tourists to New Orleans give the city a tremendous opportunity to expose its artists and musicians to a wider market,” Coletta said.

Ultimately, the experts agree: if New Orleans is to be transformed from a tourist destination dependent on service sector jobs to a hip community known for innovation and excellence, then the capacity and demand for creativity must be nurtured. Now.

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