Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Economic Development As An Art Form

Paul Krutko is our kind of economic development director.

A cornerstone of his program to sell San Jose: cultural development.

In fact, his hometown in the heart of Silicon Valley is so serious about the connection between culture and economy that its Office of Cultural Affairs answers to him as director of the Office of Economic Development.

Global Math

To him, the equation is simple. Successful cities attract talented workers and talented workers go to cities that are attractive, open and diverse and companies go where the workers are. That’s where culture comes in, because San Jose believes that it creates the platform for “how people can interact to a better society.”

It’s his opinion that cities that have the qualities of life that companies and talented workers are seeking today are found in places that are open, embracing and tolerant.

“You talk to many of the executives and they will tell you that they met someone from a completely different part of the world here (in San Jose), can work on an idea together, establish a global business platform working with individuals from all over the world and be successful,” he said.

It’s Culture, Stupid

In an interview a few weeks ago on Smart City, Mr. Krutko said that culture gives a city the intangible qualities that are increasingly important in a world known for its diversity.

“In our overall package, we spend a great deal of time with cultural development,” said Mr. Krutko. “Our office of economic development actually has incorporated our whole cultural program as part of our economic development efforts. We see development of arts, culture, and in particular, digital art, as important to quality of life and attraction.”

A Different Kind of Festival

To this end, San Jose has appropriated part of its hotel-motel tax to cultural development and concentrates on strengthening its arts and cultural organizations. As part of this, he led development – and put up the seed money - for a biannual festival of digital arts modeled after one in Venice.

“The notion with that is that we connect fully to all of the cultures in our community and to all the cultures around the world, positioning ourselves from a tolerance point of view and embracing of new forms of art, new ways of expression using new technologies.”

As part of the festival, Cisco is connecting to communities where it has operations, and there, people are creating content that is being shared back to the festival at San Jose. “That’s an example of how we try to engage our technology companies in a way that’s reflective of what they do but also creating a very tolerant, diverse environment in the arts space,” he said.


What’s impressive about San Jose is how different San Jose approaches arts and culture, because it sees its mission as more than the traditional arts investments found in most cities.

While there’s a tendency to dismiss San Jose’s experience as unrelated to cities like Memphis, it’s worth remembering that when the dot-com bubble exploded, Silicon Valley lost one of every 10 jobs eliminated in the whole U.S.

In the end, the bubble was a wake-up call that resulted in even one of the world’s most successful technology centers re-thinking itself. As a result, it’s concentrating on arts and culture and smart growth, but in a way that creates the brand of tolerance and diversity that fuels its economy.

New Thinking

“Corporations are willing to pay very high salaries to bring people to this location, but they have to have environments conducive to their ability to be productive. The companies are very much going away from the traditional or want us and ask us to change our land use policies to go away from the traditional of what we think of as the technology park form.”

Today, it’s worth remembering that most corporations and most jobs can move anywhere, so more and more, it’s about the flow of talent as much as the flow of capital. As a result, San Jose is working determinedly to create the kind of city where people see it as essentially to connect to innovation and talent.

If you want to hear the full interview with Mr. Krutko, click here. It has important implications to Memphis as it seeks more and better jobs for a strong foothold in the global economy.


Anonymous said...

and closing libraries and community centers is going to enhance the Memphis Experience exactly HOW?

Anonymous said...

It will free up more money to give loyal bodyguards six figure salary jobs!

Anonymous said...

Great article by Craig Thomas of Torto Wheaton Research called A Word About the Role of Cities came out June of '07. It elaborates on this important point.