October 15, 2004

Creativity Crisis, Gay Index

The U.S. used to have the market cornered on intellectual capital, but no more. Gautam Ghosh points to a post on the Fast Company blog discussing an article on the topic in this month's Harvard Business Review.

A major point of the HBR article is that top talent from around the world no longer sees the U.S. as the only destination. The significant drops in university applications by students from India and China, as well as declining work visa applications and approvals might be costing this country the kind of talent that was key in starting many major technology corporations.

This is the thesis of Richard Florida of Carnegie-Mellon University, and Fast Company talks about some of his other findings more extensively here. One of his main points I've heard mentioned before, and it's sure to drive the Bush administration crazy, emphasis mine:

Want to get a quick take on how your city or region is faring in the all-out competition for talent? Start by determining the percentage of gays that are in your population. The "gay index" is the leading predictor of a city's ability to attract and retain knowledge workers, claims Richard Florida, founder and director of the Software Industry Center at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University and professor of regional economic development. It's not that gay employees themselves are critical for building a tech-savvy base of operations. It's that a gay population is a dependable indicator of the environmental factors -- tolerance, openness to diversity, and lots of urban-oriented amenities -- that are critical for attracting world-class workers.

...Talent seeks inclusivity. Cities used to think about creating places that had low barriers to entry for firms so that those companies would relocate there. In a talent-driven economy, a place makes itself competitive by creating low barriers to entry for human capital. This is the type of place where talented people -- whether they're Indian, Korean, gay, or alternative -- can plug in and be accepted and not be looked upon as weird. We hear it all the time in our focus groups and in our interviews: Diversity is the surest sign that communities and companies really get it.

That's why there is such a high correlation between cities that are making it in the new economy and those that have a significant gay population. High-tech recruiters tell us that 8 out of 10 job candidates always ask a prospective employer whether the company offers domestic-partner benefits -- not because they need the benefit, but because it shows that the company is a true meritocracy that supports talented people from all walks of life.

The surest sign that a company or city doesn't get it is when you visit, and you're taken to a private club. It's like, "You just told me that this is the kind of place where I don't want to live." ...

Another article on Florida's points has a quote that sums it all up:

To support his belief, Florida cites Carly Fiorina, chief executive of Hewlett-Packard Co., who told a conference of governors recently, "Keep your tax incentives and highway interchanges. We will go where the highly skilled people are."

Unfortunately for us, and a windfall for them, the highly skilled people are turning up more and more in other countries. Undoubtedly, wages, improved higher education, and the cost of doing business are factors that can't be downplayed. But turning the U.S. into a large scale version of Utah sure isn't going to help. For anyone who needs convincing, Utah is in fact having a tough time attracting businesses:

Dr. Evan Unger, chief executive of a Tucson, Ariz., biotechnology company, would rather have his business in Utah, "one of the most business-friendly states in the country."

He likes Salt Lake's airport, its highways and his condominium at Snowbird resort, where he could get in more skiing. He's a Republican, so Utah's conservatism doesn't bother him.

Not so for many of his 19 employees, who perceive Utah as intolerant.

"They wouldn't come," sighs Unger, who says his workers were made uneasy by the Utah Legislature's publicized stands this year against abortion, gay marriage, child-welfare laws and the United Nations.

...Utah is "a very hard sell" especially for the foreign scientists Unger says he recruited for ImaRx Therapeutics. It's Unger's second company; he sold the first, a medical imaging company, to Bristol Myers-Squibb, and has plans to create a third company, which Unger says he may try to base in Utah.

But for now, Unger can't get a majority of his employees, who include a lesbian who has a partner and two children, to move from Tucson, which he calls "culturally diverse and fairly liberal." ...

Maybe one of these days enough conservatives will take a good look at these radical social stands and realize that they just don't work as laws, and they don't work for sound economies. In a global marketplace where we're losing the edge in many industries, it's important to push every advantage the country has. Perhaps moderate conservatives will be able to make the case to their fellows that there needs to be a difference between 'immoral' and illegal. And maybe someday the wingnuts will quit being able to successfully play the moral indignation card that so intimidates liberal politicians, terrified of being painted as a bunch of hippies.

But as long as it's considered an insult to point out that someone known to be gay is gay, that moral indignation card will continue to work. So forget the wingnuts. When will the 'moderates' of America realize that talking about God and morality doesn't make someone good and moral, but that it's too often the mark of a blowhard trying to sell something.

Posted by natasha at October 15, 2004 11:35 PM | GLBT | TrackBack(2) | Technorati links |