Thursday, August 22, 2019

Rural areas can invite innovation by welcoming diverse 'creative class' talent, groundbreaking study says

Though rural America has still not regained the jobs it lost in the Great Recession, rural places can be hubs of talent and innovation too thanks to the rural creative class, a new study shows.

"The study by researchers at Oklahoma State University and Purdue University uses detailed data from the Rural Establishment Innovation Survey, conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service." Richard Florida reports for CityLab. "It is the first nationally representative survey of innovation in rural businesses and communities, covering more than 10,000 businesses in some 2,200 counties, with nearly three-quarters of the responses coming from businesses in rural areas (defined as non-metropolitan counties)."

The study creates an Innovation Index from factors like the presence of intellectual property (patents, copyrights and trademarks), accomplishments like new services and products, and customer feedback. It also assesses how innovation affects rural businesses' performance and other related factors like income levels, unemployment rates, and presence of creative workers, Florida reports.

Then, the study applied the Innovation Index to the nine types of rural and urban counties (as measured by the USDA's rural-urban continuum codes). Businesses in the six rural types of counties indexed below the national average for innovation, but this is mostly because rural areas simply have a lower share of innovative firms, Florida reports.

Innovation correlates with low unemployment rates and higher pay, and it has an outsized effect on the surrounding community, the study found: "places that are adjacent to areas with high levels of innovation appear to experience higher levels of creative class employees than would be expected." In other words, Florida reports, "Innovation invigorates talent and the creative class which in turn spills over to nearby places."

The key takeaway for lawmakers is that policy should focus on growing, attracting and keeping talent, which can be done by "adding to amenities and ensuring that communities are open to, and inclusive of, talent across the lines of race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, and sexual orientation," Florida reports. "These policies and approaches, which have typically been viewed as more appropriate for larger cities and urban areas, may have even more to offer smaller rural communities."

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