Both critics and proponents of the creative economy approach to GSO's future focus too much on the arts, as if the blown engines of textile manufacturing, insurance, tobacco, and furniture would be replaced by a tribe of beatniks planning interpretive dance programs over fair-trade coffee in a charming fauxhemian downtown.
The arts are good business and contribute to a livable city, and we should be building on our long history as one of North Carolina's funkier places, but there is much more to the idea of creative culture, and I'm not sure we're thinking about the other stuff as publicly and coherently as we should be.
Creative culture includes STEM workers, designers, media, education, healthcare, and more. We have real assets in these areas -- new ones, like the nanotech program, and existing ones like our universities and a big, strong health system, myriad small businesses that grew up servicing the old giants -- but we don't seem to have a cohesive brand or plan. The lack of a serious broadband strategy is one indication of this problem.
Two articles on the future of manufacturing speak to our opportunity. One is a bullish piece about reshoring jobs as cheap energy here and rising costs in Asia change the math of globalization. The other describes real value drivers in this new manufacturing economy, which go well beyond the relatively limited number of reshorable jobs that involve actually making things to the design, service, and management jobs that power modern manufacturing.
Mouhoud suggests reinstating a philosophy of services in the debate on industrial policy. The outlines of the industry must be redrawn keeping in mind that many of the relocated services belong basically to the industrial world: “Many medium-sized cities would see their economic importance increase if these services were better implemented. Moreover, the presence of these services is likely to attract industries and their subcontractors.” In short: a reversion of causality whereby the industry would cease to be considered as the sacred engine of economy. Industry could become a manufacturing version of a strategy that is primarily focused on services and design.
This is the real creative economy, and it should be a sweet spot for Greensboro and Guilford County.