Archive for clusters

Does a city (or a country) need corporate head offices

Three years ago I pondered whether all the fretting about Vancouver losing corporate head offices had merit — and concluded that it did not:

If we look at the causes of head office decline in Vancouver, we see that it comes from a position of corporate success — not failure. Successful companies have been acquired by the global players who want their product or service. The MacMillian BloedelWeyerheuser merger is an example from the forestry sector. Flickr’s acquisition by Yahoo! offers a smaller yet equally valid situation. Local entrepreneurs created a successful product and company that a global player wanted badly enough to buy the company at a high price.

Another cause of head office decline has been the mergers of BC-based businesses. … Driving these mergers has been the need to compete on the global stage — to improve corporate efficiencies and cut costs. No government policy will change this.

Many entrepreneurial creative or knowledge economy companies also do well in Vancouver and once purchased, receive large boosts of funding from the new parent company, creating more creative jobs. [For example] Radical Entertainment [was] bought by Vivendi and now expanding rapidly.

This week, Stephen Gordon at Worthwhile Canadian Initiative shared statistical evidence that indeed it does not matter where in the world the CFO sits:

Just what is the problem with foreign ownership, anyway? The usual stories about low productivity and R&D being done elsewhere are hopelessly out of date. A 2005 StatsCan study (pdf) found that “foreign-controlled plants are more productive than domestic-controlled plants” and “are also more innovative, more R&D intensive and use more advanced technologies.” Their presence also has spillover effects, forcing domestic rivals to increase their productivity as well. What’s not to like?

Given what we know about the knowledge economy, it makes sense that foreign acquisitions of local companies make them better.  After all, they bring new ideas to an already successful business (if it wasn’t successful, or otherwise have incredible potential, it would not have be purchased).

We therefore need to stop measuring cities by the number of corporate head offices, and focus even more on creating the  environment in which talented people can think and thrive.  This will foment successful startups — that could get bought by a bigger player, with fresh new ideas and the money to make those dreams a reality — as well as attract global players to locate new facilities nearby.

Maybe in the future cities will be measured by the number of Fortune 500 firms with locations there.

Toronto’s remarkable resiliency to the 2009 recession

If you exclude manufacturing employment, there were more jobs in Toronto in May 2008 than May 2009, according to the Labour Force Survey produced monthly by Statistics Canada.   Jobs in categories that include the financial sector and accounting continue to grow — albeit more slowly than during the boom times.

The last big recession, which occurred in 1991, hit Canada’s largest city of Toronto hard.  Not only did manufacturing employment decline, so did jobs in the financial sector as the nation adjusted to a variety of structural changes.  Unemployment rates exceeded 12% while the vacancy rate in office buildings reached 20% (7% is considered a normal “balanced” market).  So, the resiliency this time was not fully expected.

Although the media remains focused on the automotive manufacturing job losses, bailouts, and related challenges, it’s the other story that intrigues me.  What is helping to hold up employment in the other industries?

Various Toronto clusters seem to be holding up well.  The financial and accounting sector is being noticed globally and attracting some superstar talent (such as the repatriation of economist David Rosenberg from the defunct Merrill Lynch in USA) as well as the expansion of global operations for organizations like KPMG.

Anecdotally I’ve heard the pharmaceutical sector is doing well and exporting globally.

The jobs numbers that I’ve been looking at (unadjusted for seasonality, sorted by high-level NAICS and NOCs codes, for CMAs) don’t distinguish between part-time and full-time jobs, so it may be that some positions have shifted to part-time from full-time.  But this move would suggest that employers in Toronto are trying to hoard talent and retain their skilled workforces, another sign of a vote of confidence in Toronto.

But I live thousands of kilometers from Toronto — for those of you there, what are you hearing and seeing?  what industries are propping up Toronto’s economy?

From factories to bedrooms and boardrooms

Some North American cities are experiencing strong demand for office, residential and retail space, particularly in the core areas of the metropolis.  Meanwhile manufacturing has declined, leaving some former factory buildings under utilized.

A result is that city governments are allowing these spaces to be converted or redeveloped into other uses.

New YorkCity is one such place.  According to the NY Daily News ..

“The Bloomberg administration had a strategic plan from the beginning – to rezone or redevelop manufacturing areas to promote, originally, office space,” said Pratt Center Executive Director Brad Lander.

“But it’s worked out to be almost entirely residential development,” he said. “There’s a real concern it’s gone too far.”

More than 20 Bloomberg rezonings have converted manufacturing land into residential or commercial uses, transforming neighborhoods like Red Hook, Long Island City and the South Bronx into trendy residential addresses.

Seth Pinsky, head of the city Economic Development Corp., said many of the rezonings, in Brooklyn‘s Greenpoint and Williamsburg for example, sought better uses for run-down, largely vacant manufacturing sites.

Should residents and the broader business community be worried?

I’m not an expert on New York.  But as a general statement, I’d say people should be cautious about such conversions, but also view them with a broader long-term perspective.  They may simply reflect an evolution in the purpose of cities rather than short sighted decisions.

Converting industrial space may represent a shift in the economy of cities away from manufacturing and toward more service oriented industries and knowledge-economy work that are people oriented. A  city wanting to support these clusters will need to find more space for residences and more room for office space.

Still, city governments and tax payers need to be cautious about converting industrial space to residences.  Business users, whether industrial or office, typically pay much higher property taxes compared to home owners.  More people, however, typically means a higher demand for city services from garbage collection to policing.  A rapid shift away from industrial uses will likely result in either higher taxes or reduced services, or both.

Another reason to be cautious about converting too much manufacturing space to office or residential use is that new and future styles of manufacturing may need space tomorrow. Not everything is made overseas and higher fuel prices may support new innovative products being manufactured in North American cities.  For example, the Blackberry mobile device is made in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.

Of course, manufacturing of some products is likely not coming back to North America — the entire supply chain associated with them is in another part of the world.  And places like New York that once were centres of manufacturing may not be the locations of new, future manufacturing.  The Blackberry example is worth noting — it’s not being made in Toronto.

New York City is now about global knowledge-based service industries, finance, fashion management, etc. Perhaps supporting those clusters is what the city government and residences need to focus on.

A shift in the global and North American economies is underway and this will necessarily being a shift in real estate use.

Telecommuting is so ex-urban

Sure, working from home occasionally can offer a productivity boost. Getting away from the phone and co-workers is sometimes necessary to accomplish large, solitary projects or catch up on a dozen loose ends.

But everyone working from home, connecting via the internet and VOIP or video conference to each other is not going to happen.  As suburbanization and then ex-urbanization became the trend, there were workplace gurus who insisted that the office building would soon be a dinosaur.  This hasn’t happened.  Office space is more expensive than ever in most cities and globally.

In the modern economy, far too much productive economic activity requires collaboration. Companies ranging from banks to software companies, law firms and financial advisory companies need bright people working together. Many brains thinking about an issue differently — but together — solve problems faster and innovate better than individuals working alone.

That’s one reason why cities are spikes of economic activity, to use a Richard Florida term. That’s why industries cluster together — they take advantage of many brains thinking about interconnected subjects.

Few companies that require creativity — that earn their revenue or stock value from the collective brain power of their people — can afford to have them working in silos at home.  Working independently, thousands of wheels will be continually reinvented, and won’t get around to creating an automobile.

But, many people when given a choice do not telecommute very often. I can’t find the source right now, but I recall a recent UK study in which only about 10% of people who could do so telecommuted regularly, and most of them only did so only 1 or 2 days per week.
There are a variety of reasons why people don’t telecommute most of the time.

  • Some don’t want to be forgotten about at the office. The best projects may go to people who are physically there when they are dreamed up.
  • Most people enjoy being part of a group — some would argue that it’s human nature to want to belong and the workplace provides an avenue for that expression. For many, going to work has become especially important given how many more years people are now single and often living alone. People all crowd into expensive “superstar” cities in order to be around other people (why else would you pay the rent, tolerate the traffic, and accept the noise? it comes with great creative and inspirational benefits.
  • Collaborating with smart co-workers to solve complex problems can be exhilarating.

In some cases today, people don’t have the room at home to telecommute much. For families living in urban spaces rather than suburban ones, there isn’t a separate “study”.

For decades, people have been predicting the end of the office building and the end of downtowns. The suburbanization trend lead many to dream of living in the mountains or by the beach or lake and away from a city altogether. Some did this in the ex-urbs. Why can’t I just telecommute rather than drive was the plea.

Noting that occasional telecommuting was highly productive, many blamed inflexible employers for chaining them to their desks. However, as employers have brought in increasingly flexible work policies at many companies, regular telecommuting has not caught on. Most of the time, people want to be near people to stay in the know, hear the latest industry news, and collaborate.

Working from the ex-urban mansion is not efficient for participating in a collaborative world.

End of the Megalopolis?

What if the costs of operating an automobile permanently reach or exceed $10 per gallon and alternative fuels cannot offer any savings just an alternative?

Then, we may see the end of the Megalopolis — although not the end of the mega-region.

On CBC’s The National Wednesday night a person interviewed (James Kunstler, I believe) in Kelly Crowe’s second story suggested that among the consequences for urban life is that cities will become more compact and many people will move to smaller cities.

He described how people will seek urban life on a more personal, human scale where they have access to everything they need in close proximity — homes, jobs, schools, recreation, entertainment, shopping, etc. Fuel consumption would therefore drop dramatically.

If this happens, it would mean the gradual emptying of outer suburbs and exurbs over the next 10-20 years.

By my read, a consequence would be that today’s mega-regions, as defined in Richard Florida’s work, would probably remain much the same. But people would be clustered in cities — some big, some small some medium sized — with large expanses of non-urban space in between, space that used to be housing or malls.

So, Florida’s famous shot of North America at night from which he developed the mega region concept will change. Today, the continuous concentrations of light roughly correspond to continuous interconnected economic regions. In the future, there will be big balls of light and little ones more resembling a connect the dots puzzle.

Maybe — as a commenter suggested in my previous post – the empty space in between can be turned back into farmland to supply more food locally.

Chicago: Creative Capital of the Universe?

Fast Company has released the 2008 Fast Cities report. Chicago and London are its cities of the year.

What intrigued me was the statement that Chicago is the creative capital of the universe (at least for 2008, presumably).

The article then offers discussion as to why this is from “creative” residents, including Grant Achatz (business person) who insists that an environment in which people will take risks is key, as workers but also as consumers and in life generally.

“People perceive New York as the most creative place, but it’s not as lively as it is here. More risks are taken here. You have a community that’s willing to embrace food for what it is, look past preconceived notions, and not be scared to try something new.”

The attitude behind this bold statement fits Richard Florida’s assessment of Chicago’s personality as being one of an extrovert. Interestingly enough, however, in Florida’s research Chicago did not come through as a place particularly open to new experience.

Others thought that Chicago’s grit gave it an authenticity as well as the edgyness that makes people think.

Chris Ware (Graphic Designer):

It’s an honest city, and because of that, it has a grim, refreshing isolation to it.”

Brad Morris (Second City Comedy Ensemble Member)

A great creative place has to have great art, great food, and a combination of beauty and grit to be inspired by. Chicago has all of that.”

While Chicago no doubt has lots to offer and tons more potential as a city, the creative capital title seems a stretch. But, if the point is to get everyone thinking differently about Chicago, and re-thinking any older images they may have had — then it worked for me. (Calling the Bay Area or New York a creative capital would hardly have been newsworthy.)
Here are some economic facts about Chicago, some of which really surprised me.

  • Chicago has a faster growing economy than either New York or Los Angeles, at 1.9%.
  • In 2007 it had the 7th fastest growing population among US cities (not sure if this is the metro area or Chicago proper, presumably the latter).
  • 29% of downtown Chicago residents have graduate degrees (over 3 times the national average)
  • Chicago is the number one city for business investment and expansion according to Site Selection Magazine.
  • 30 Fortune-500 companies are based in the Chicago Metro, second only to New York in the USA.

addendum: highly recommend a read of the post on the same topic by Brendan at Where Blog.

4 ways to read “Who’s Your City”

Richard Florida, Who’s Your City?: How the Creative Economy Is Making Where to Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life.

Where you choose to live may be the most important decision in your adult life — at least according to Economist Richard Florida. And he makes a compelling case for it in his latest book. Your choice of city will shape who your friends are, who you marry and your career possibilities. More people have the means to be mobile than ever before in human history, with profound implications for the 21st century.

Therefore, the book’s content will interest a wide range of people from urban economic development specialists to college students with their futures ahead of them to people who simply want to understand better the relationship between urban development and the world and US economies.

Rather than write a standard book review, I thought I’d offer some thoughts on how four different groups could read and benefit from the knowledge in Who’s Your City.

1. Newer Urban Studies students (graduate or under graduate level or self-taught).
The book offers a valuable background on scholarship and theories about cities. The first half of the book (or so) centres around explaining why and how the world is spiky, refuting Thomas L. Friedman’s assertion that is is flat. The highest levels of economic growth and development is concentrating in cities, and certain cities are experiencing much faster economic prosperity expansion than others.

The power of clustering is a key reason why and through several chapters Florida “unpacks” clustering, explaining in detail the multifaceted aspects of this phenomenon. Who’s Your City offers a good foundation on which to build a knowledge of how cities work.

2. Seasoned urbanologists – aka knowledgable city buffs – In addition to the details on how clusters work, Florida offers a new approach to understanding cities that is intriguing. Examining clustering in detail led him to wonder whether certain cities and mega regions tend to attract more of particular personality types. He investigated and it appears that indeed they do. For example, extroverted people gravitate toward Chicago and other cities in a swatch heading southward including St. Louis, Memphis and Atlanta. Neurotic people cluster very heavily in New York. Open to experience people cluster in California and Cascadia, among other places.

As a result, you could say that cities have personalities. Florida suggests that people may be happiest if they find a city that matches their own personality because this means they’ll find more like minded people. Something young people looking for their city-mate might want to keep in mind.

3. College juniors and seniors as well as young people generally who will soon face a location choice. Often it seems Florida is talking directly to this group — particularly in later chapters although throughout the book are sections that read like college lectures, perhaps where he field-tested the material before publication.

In the final chapter, Florida offers a series of questions and steps that people should follow in order to find good potential urban matches. He suggests people consider everything from the quality of the airport to traffic congestion, schools, entertainment, energy level, crime rates and ease of networking.

While he recommended people visit potential city-matches, I was disappointed that he didn’t suggest “test driving” a city. While still in college people have good avenues for doing this such as doing a semester exchange to another school in a potential match city, or finding a summer job or internship in a different city.

4. Planners and economic development specialists.
Florida points out that cities are increasingly finding themselves competing for talented people. The skilled are attracted to a combination of urban amenities and productivity in their field, not all of it within the control of civic officials.

Some cities appeal more to certain demographic groups than others. Florida divides them into young singles, young families and empty nesters and offers analysis as to which cities best fit people at these life stages. Some cities — such as San Francisco — perform better for wider ranges of people than other places, and intriguingly this often correlates to high innovation rates. An obvious conclusion the reader can draw is that making cities accessable to people at all stages of their lives is important. HOwever, Florida focuses on his strength of pointing out trends and leaves it to policy makers to decide how to handle this information.

One key finding that is a dangling thread in this book is that places with highest levels of innovation also seem to have highest levels of prosperity, but also poverty. As Florida states, this may be one of the greatest political and social challenges to come in the 21st century.

****

This book has something for everyone. This leads to my main critique: it doesn’t have one strong thread tying everything together — it often seems like a series of essays — fascinating ones, but not always connected ones.

The book’s main purpose appears to be the message that place matters. And yes, Florida illustrates that. But somehow the early chapters on the growing importance of clusters and the rise of mega regions don’talways seem connected to the later chapters on personality as well as “where we live now?” and Place yourself. This all may be because we hear two different voices from Richard Florida. One, the analytical academic — particularly in the earlier chapters that may have been stand alone articles previously — the other a friendly, casual tone that offers some personal, autobiographical content. Both styles are enjoyable reads, just sometimes seem forced in this book.

This is a minor quibble. Florida offers a highly accessible analysis of how cities and megaregions work, including new perspectives including the notion that cities have personalities.

Clusters and (health) company towns

In the 19th and early 20th century many towns and small cities were dominated by one industry or even one company – the factory town. For example: Flint, MI and General Motors or Dearborn, MI and Ford.

Now, in the early 21st century some new company towns are emerging in the US — ones centred around providing superior health care and even health tourism of the most expensive variety: A “hospital town” instead of a factory town.

A recent Economist article featured Rochester MN, home of the Mayo Clinic, and Cleveland, OH home of the Cleveland Clinic.

They asked the question:

What happens when a clinic takes over a metropolis?

And noted a couple of intriguing differences from the factory town era.

1 . The town needs a lot more hotel rooms per capital.  Rochester, much smaller than Minneapolis has the same number of hotel rooms.  These serve medical conference attendees as well as patients, and their families.

2. A much more skilled workforce is needed.  Doctors, nurses, lab techs, physical therapists, etc. and all sub-specialties within them have to be attracted and retained in the hospital town (not to mention the semi-skill work involved such as cleaning, food prep, etc.)

It’s Cleveland’s answer to #2 that’s intriguing.   They are now reaching out into the high schools, educating students on the variety of health care careers available.  Essentially, they are trying to grow their own talent in the town.

As city governments and business communities compete for talented workers, it seems that reaching younger people already in the city would make sense.  Give them early exposure to career options.  Maybe hire some high school students in the summer to help in various capacities.  Offer good, affordable education programs — subsidize them if you must.  And, although some will depart for other cities, many people with family ties in the area will stay — or will return once they start their own family.

New lens on New York (Warhol Economy Reviewed)

Elizabeth Currid, The Warhol Economy: How Fashion, Art and Music Drive New York City (Princeton University Press, 2007). See also the earlier post, “Top Three Reasons to Read the Warhol Economy.

Elizabeth Currid seeks to turn our assumptions about New York‘s economy upside down. Most people assume that New York‘s economic core and global pull comes from its financial core — from Wall Street. Currid argues that its true global importance comes from its artistic and creative cluster — artists, musicians, fashion designers and writers and the activities that surround them. An assistant professor of urban planning, Currid also wants to make planners recognize the importance of the cultural economy as well as show how this cluster is intricately intertwined within the city — almost any policy or action that affects New York, affects the culture cluster.

The main evidence for the cultural economy’s importance to New York‘s economy is in chapter three. Until then, I was skeptical of her assertions that the arts community mattered that much — (a better organizational flow for the book might have been to have made this the first chapter). Using a methodology called location quotient, Currid illustrates that arts and culture workers and the media sector are more concentrated in New York than employees of any other industry when compared to other cities. Among the other evidence Currid cites, she found that New York has been steadily losing its share of US corporate head offices, from holding 31% in 1955, today the entire metro region (which includes parts of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut) only holds 14%.

Currid provides a focused lens into how the arts and culture community is intricately intertwined with New York‘s history as well as its present. In chapter one she illustrates how, during the late 1960s though early 1980s, when New York’s economy was struggling and crime was high, the arts flourished. Artists, musicians and related creative types found cheap housing and inexpensive studio space in particular neighborhoods like SoHo. Inexpensive rent also allowed night clubs to flourish in these areas. Since that time, rents have gradually increased, pushing out artists as well as their haunts (the closing of CBGB being the most notable).

The dense concentration of artistic types allowed them to meet, socialize, and cross pollinate ideas as well as promote each other’s works. Currid has many great stories about how well known artists and musicians got their breaks. Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah was a local indie band until David Bowie and Talking Heads’ David Byrne heard a buzz on the street, went to a show, loved the music, and started telling their friends. Soon Clap Your Hands had a record deal and a tour. Madonna became known, in part, through dating a famous (or infamous) New York graffiti artist. The artistic scene in New York allows this to happen.

The numerous formal and informal — and even messy — interactions that connect the people and companies within a cluster come alive under Currid’s direction. Currid offers a detailed, thorough account of how a cluster works at the micro level where people cross over related industries (graffiti artist and fashion designer, for example), cross-pollinate ideas, and work through word of mouth. Artists, musicians, fashion designers, and their media supporters and critics run in the same social circles, attending the same gallery openings or indie band concerts, and frequenting the same night clubs (like the famous CBGB). People and their ideas cross-pollinate in the social, informal milieu.  A cool part of the book is how Currid herself became part of her subject – the arts network — attending gala gallery openings and exclusive parties, talking to people who then introduced her to others. It really is all about “who you know.”

While she briefly acknowledges the social informal networks in other clusters, Currid downplays its importance outside the culture cluster. However, you can replace the gallery openings in Currid’s treatment with a golf course or the box suite at a hockey or football game and the process is remarkably similar. Because of the details, students interested in clusters generally should be able to glean some good insights and develop new theories into how they work.

The artistic and creative economy evolved organically in New York. The density of artists allowed them to support and inform each others work – and the density attracted more creative people. But how do you preserve the physical milieu in which the arts culture thrives — the night clubs, cheap artists studios and housing, galleries, etc. — in light of gentrification forces? (Assuming that you can stop or profoundly shape urban evolution and organic change, which Currid does seem to assume).

In her final chapter, Currid offers advice to public policy makers and urban planners. While I commend her for offering ideas to this challenging issue, I found some of Currid’s suggestions problematic or contradictory. On the one hand, Currid illustrates how the artistic cluster evolved and thrived when more chaos reigned in the 1970s and 1980s. Government wasn’t doing much; the city was almost being let go. But later she calls for government intervention.

One solution she suggests is subsidized artist housing. But she also mentioned this exists now, and bankers, lawyers etc. end up living in it. She suggests finding a way to stop “non artists” from using it. Somehow I don’t think most American people — especially the free thinking creative types portrayed in the book — would accept the level of surveillance on their lives that would be required to make such a policy work.

Something notably absent from Currid’s otherwise thorough work was what she believed the impact of Guiliani’s crime-reduction and disorder-reduction policies were on the arts scene. Everywhere in the book she connects the disorder to creativity, and the higher crime to lower rents and the flourishing of the artistic scene.

One characteristic of a good book is that it inspires further thought and research – and this book had me thinking about myriad issues on every page. A few bigger questions that come to mind:

  • How do the arts and culture clusters work in other cities?
  • How have other clusters risen and fallen with the economic history and cycles of New York and other cities?
  • She hints that the artistic cluster actually ties in other clusters as well – the accountants who know indie music, the lawyer who attends gallery openings. In other cities is there a cluster that connects accountants, lawyers, doctors etc? maybe a sports cluster for example?
  • Can government policy really stop urban evolution? Or shape it?
  • What is the relationship between crime, disorder, and a flourishing arts scene?

Currid’s evidence leads to a question she doesn’t directly address: if we want a thriving artistic economy, should we be wary of policies to bring more order to a city (such as by reducing graffiti, crimes, drug use, etc. ) That might be a tough one to sell to voters.

Tales of two border cities

Strategies to work around US immigration policies are starting to become more creative, and bizarre.   An author at CEOs for Cities is reporting that a consultant speaker at the Mayor’s Hemispheric Forum this week will advocate that the best strategy to revive Detroit is to partner with Windsor, Ontario Canada.

The logic goes, apparently, that because of a shortage of H1-B visas allowing skilled foreigners to live and work in the USA, cities like Detroit cannot re-energize their economies  and shift the business base further into the knowledge economy.  Therefore, under this theory, US companies should set up partner operations in nearby Canadian cities, as it is much easier for the talented to immigrate to Canada.  The recent announcement of Microsoft’s new Vancouver-area operation (a 2 hours’ drive north of its Redmond Washington headquarters), is cited as an example.

Should America’s knowledge economy leaders follow this advice, it will certainly benefit Canada’s urban and national economies.  But what about America’s cities?

Will such a cross-border urban business partnership really bring more companies to Detroit?  If you’re a large knowledge economy company looking to expand operations in North America, why not just skip Detroit and Windsor and set up in Toronto with its bigger population and more dynamic urban cultural and economic scene?

If the plan is to help Detroit-area companies expand, then it might have a little more merit.  However, if many or most of the new jobs end up in Windsor Ontario, how much will Detroit really benefit?  The border region could certainly develop particular clusters and become known for that.  But if any other company then decides they want to operate in the region, they will also likely need to choose Windsor as their base of operations in order to find their own workforce.  (If Detroit had enough talented workers to support knowledge economy growth or cluster growth, then presumably the current and future residents of Windsor would not be required.)  So again, how does Detroit really benefit here?

Maybe the hope is that building a dynamic Detroit-Windsor region will make more talented Americans want to move to Detroit.  That could benefit the city.  But it seems like an event at the end of a series of difficult-to-achieve ventures.

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