Is Florida Right?

Before you mistake this blog as an appeal for New Brunswickers to stay home this winter (i.e. is it ‘right’ to migrate to Florida), don’t. It’s not. It’s in reference to professor Richard Florida whose thinking is sweeping the economic development world. He did research on successful economies and found that those that are successful tend to have a more diverse labour pool (higher levels of immigrants), a higher percentage of creative people (persons working in artistic occupations) and, a higher gay population.

His conclusion is that communities need to attract more immigrants, more Bohemians (artists) and more gays – in order to be successful. While there may be some truth to his arguments, something always bothers me when I read his stuff or see him in person (last year in Halifax).

Do certain kinds of economies attract immigrants, Bohemians and gays? In other words, are the economies successful because these elements are present or are these elements present because the economy is successful? The classic chicken and egg. I think you could easily make the argument that artists (broadly defined) tend to aggregate in communities where there are higher amounts of money spent on artistic endeavours (successful economies). You could further make the argument that immigrants settle in areas that are the most economically vibrant (successful economies). If you wanted to stretch things, you could argue that gays tend to be in vibrant economies because they have a higher sensitivity to economic issues (gays have, on average, much higher average income than non-gays).

If that is true, and I am not necessarily advocating it, attracting Bohemians, immigrants and gays to a depressed economy through some form of artificial stimulus (say a short term campaign that makes it attractive for these groups to move to the depressed economy) could actually backfire big time. The gays would move out, the Bohemians wouldn’t be able to make a living and move out and the immigrants would see no long term opportunity and move out.

Instead of jumping on the latest bandwagons, I suggests economic developers and policy wonks look at the main underlying factor that is depressing an economy such as New Brunswick which is a systemic lack of business investment. New Brunswick has received less foreign direct investment and Canadian business investment than just about all other provinces over the past decade (and much further if you keep looking). Limited investment (i.e. new software development studios, manufacturing, warehouses, etc.) wil lead to limited job opportunities, limited upward pressure on wages and limited value in pursuing higher education (unless you plan to leave the region). If New Brunswick, like Ireland, could lead all of Canada for business investment for a sustained period, I suspect you would have all the Bohemians and gays you could ever want.

And as far as immigration is concerned. Take a look at Calgary. The fastest growing population in that city is not ex-Atlantic Canadians – no they have moved way beyond that – it’s the Chinese. Yes, Chinese immigrants in the heart of hillbilly country.

Draw your own conclusions.