Economic Engine

Boulder, Ann Arbor, Tucson & More: 20 Most Creative U.S. Cities

Creativity is now the main driver of America’s economy. Richard Florida reports on the nation’s most creative metro areas, from Boulder to D.C.

AP Photo (3); Bloomberg / Getty Images (top right)

Think for a minute of the great companies and great new industries that have powered our economy over the past couple of decades, as our once great car companies and other manufacturing industries have lost their luster. Apple, Google, Facebook, and others that have reinvented the way we organize information, communicate, and work; Amazon that has changed the way we shop; even Whole Foods and Starbucks that have altered what we eat. What do all these companies have in common? They are technological and economic innovators—creative to their core.

Creativity has become the fundamental driver of our economy. Alongside this, we have seen the rise of a new socioeconomic class, the Creative Class, with more than 40 million members—from scientists and engineers, to architects and designers, artists and entertainers, and the growing ranks of professional knowledge workers, who generate more than $2 trillion in wages and salaries, more than two thirds of the total.

But the Creative Class is not spread evenly across America. The past several decades have given rise to a big sort, as the Creative Class has clustered and concentrated in certain cities and their surrounding metro areas. Cities and metro areas are in fact the key economic and social organizing units of the Creative Age, even more so than industrial corporations. Cities, as the great urbanist Jane Jacobs told us long ago, are where new ideas, new innovations, new companies, and new work come from. They are the social and economic platforms that enable talented people to combine and recombine their talents and ideas in ways that generate new technologies and new companies, which in turn create new jobs, generating wealth and prosperity.

The slides show America’s most creative metro areas. The rankings are based on my detailed analysis of more than 350 U.S. metros areas in my newly released book, The Rise of the Creative Class, Revisited. This 2012 Creativity Index, compiled with the help of my colleague, Kevin Stolarick of the Martin Prosperity Institute, is based on a simple formula, which I call the “3Ts of economic development.” The first T is technology, or the ability to create new ideas and inventions and high-tech companies. We measure it as a combination of innovation and high-tech companies. The second T is talent—the skilled, ambitious, and talented people who generate new ideas and create new companies. We measure it by the share of the workforce in the Creative Class. The third T is tolerance in the nonjudgmental environment that attracts open-minded and new-thinking kinds of people across the board. We measure the share of foreign-born people, gays and lesbians, and level of integration in a community.

Boulder, Colo., home of the University of Colorado and impressive numbers of high-tech startups, tops the list, followed by San Francisco and Boston, both of which are notable for high-tech, higher education, and culture. Seattle, home to Amazon, Starbucks, and Cray; San Diego, home of the Salk Institute and countless high-tech and biotech businesses; and the university town of Ann Arbor, Mich., are tied for fourth place. The seventh and eighth cities on the list, Corvallis, Ore., and Durham, N.C., are university towns as well. Washington, D.C., and Trenton, N.J. (home to Princeton and countless pharmaceutical companies). round out the list. Los Angeles is 22nd, New York 31st, and Chicago 45th. Despite being so very hard hit by the economic crisis, Detroit ranks 53rd, putting it in the top 15 percent of all metros.