Richard Florida Opens Entrepreneurship Conference

Posted: December 5, 2005 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Robin Herron

Richard Florida
Richard Florida
Creative Services photo

Saying that joining the George Mason University faculty was “probably the greatest move and greatest experience of my life,” Richard Florida, Omer L. and Nancy Hirst Professor of Public Policy, opened the Second Annual Conference on Entrepreneurship Research at Mason Dec. 2.

“I think the opportunities for what we can do here to build in the areas of entrepreneurship, innovation, creativity and economic growth are unparalleled,” Florida said. As the author of the 2002 bestseller, “The Rise of the Creative Class,” and the 2005 “The Flight of the Creative Class,” Florida explained his research that shows human creativity is closely tied to entrepreneurship, and social and cultural factors greatly influence entrepreneurship.

Florida, formerly a professor in the Heinz School of Public Policy and Management at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, talked about how that university had the talent and resources to nurture and launch many entrepreneurial companies, including the Internet search company Lycos. However, the Pittsburgh area lost population and jobs, and successful companies began to move to other cities. When Lycos announced plans to move to Boston, Florida was inspired to research the reasons behind the phenomenon, leading to his two books.

“The founder of Lycos told me that the reason for the move to Boston was to get access to a readily available pool of talent,” Florida said. “We had always assumed that people will follow jobs, but we’ve found that the jobs are moving to people.”

In his research, Florida has looked at the factors that attract people to places. The words of a computer scientist who moved to Seattle from Pittsburgh stuck in his mind: “I see myself as a creative person: I work in technology, I build companies, I have interests in arts and culture and music.”

Florida found that highly mobile, creative people go to places such as the San Francisco Bay area, where cultural vibrancy and openness are major attractions. He also discovered what he calls “the melting pot index” – an indicator that regions with higher levels of immigrants have higher levels of entrepreneurs. Another index, the “bohemian index,” involves areas that nurture rock ‘n roll bands. A large gay and lesbian population is another indicator of a region that attracts entrepreneurial talent. Altogether, the factors are “indicators of a culture that enables entrepreneurs to mobilize,” he said.

Florida spoke about “the three Ts” of economic growth – technology, talent and tolerance (tolerance meaning an openness and acceptance of a diverse population). Recent research Florida has done shows “the biggest migration of skill we’ve seen in the past two or three centuries” to metropolitan areas such as San Francisco, Austin, Tex., and Washington, D.C. He noted that 50 percent of the population in downtown Washington, D.C., has a bachelor’s or higher degree, compared to Pittsburgh’s 3 percent. He added that the real economic strength of the United States is its ability to attract entrepreneurial talent from all over the world. “Hotmail, Yahoo, E-Bay and Google were all founded by foreign-born entrepreneurs,” he observed.

Florida said that his most recent research shows that the clustering phenomenon is not limited to the United States. In China, for example, entrepreneurial talent is concentrated in four regions in the country.

He has also done what he calls a “spectacular” analysis of Washington, D.C., to measure subjective well-being. The answers, he said, “floored even me.” In this area, life satisfaction is based one-third on issues related to family, one-third on issues related to finances and jobs and one-third on community. Aesthetics such as air and water quality, ability to access the arts and cultural activities and availability of outdoor parks and recreational amenities are at the top of the list related to community. Diversity in a community runs a close second, with high acceptance of all kinds of people, especially “young, highly skilled, highly ambitious” people.

“If we want to be the best and brightest [at George Mason] in the field of entrepreneurship and creativity and economic growth, there’s a really cool way for us to go,” Florida concluded. “It’s to combine an understanding of that hard set of economic factors – new information technology transfer, entrepreneurship, venture capital – with an even broader understanding of the social and cultural factors of the role of diversity and tolerance and the nonmarket factors that contribute to entrepreneurial and economic growth.”

The entrepreneurship conference continued throughout the day with presentations by 40 professors from George Mason and other universities representing the fields of public policy, management, information technology, education, information technology, economics, and the sciences. The event was chaired by Roger Stough, associate dean for research, development and external relations in the School of Public Policy; and Mahesh Joshi, associate professor of management in the School of Management.

Write to at