St. Louis highlighted among cities with biggest growth of ‘creative class’ workers

Missouri, like other Midwestern states, has struggled with “brain drain,” or the flight of highly educated and highly trained people to other parts of the country, typically to large cities.

Although this phenomenon has been seen nationwide in states such as Wisconsin, Iowa and Indiana, Missouri’s brain drain is unique in its stability over multiple decades, according to a report published in April by the Congressional Joint Economic Committee.

People have been leaving for a long time. But with technology’s transformation of the job market, St. Louis’ economy may be on the rise, according to a new report from Richard Florida, a professor at the University of Toronto and co-founder of CityLab, an online expansion of The Atlantic.

Florida coined the concept “creative class” in his 2002 book “The Rise of the Creative Class,” which advised cities to try and attract knowledge-based industries and workers.

Between 2005 and 2017, St. Louis’ creative class of “knowledge workers in education, healthcare, law, arts, tech, science and business” experienced one of the highest growth rates in the nation, at more than 16.4%.

That’s according to Florida’s new report, which outlines the explosive growth experienced by the creative class over the past 15 years. Between 2005 and 2017, the U.S. workforce grew at a rate of 13.6%. The creative class growth rate was double that, at 27.2%.

Instead of measuring talent by college education, Florida measures it by occupation. Today, only six out of 10 members of the creative class hold a college degree, he writes.

St. Louis, an older industrial city with an economy once largely built on manufacturing, is creating a growing number of jobs in the “knowledge sector,” many of which are some of the highest paying on the market, according to Florida’s research.

This shift from manufacturing-type jobs to advanced services jobs in areas like engineering, computer systems and telecommunications was also outlined in a Brookings report published last year, which highlighted St. Louis’ growth.

The report cited research-centered urban universities, such as Washington University in St. Louis, as important anchors for expansion in knowledge-based fields, particularly in older industrial cities such as St. Louis, Cleveland and Baltimore.

Statistics from the Joint Economic Committee show that although Missouri experiences steady brain drain of college graduates, it doesn’t experience high numbers of “outmigration” of the general population.

The data show a broader shift in the makeup of the U.S. job market. St. Louis isn’t necessarily attracting droves of highly talented college graduates. Rather, it’s growing its knowledge sector while decreasing its manufacturing sector.

There’s a reason Florida encouraged cities to recruit knowledge-based industries: they’re where the money is.

The transformation of the job market, Florida said, could indicate “the beginnings of a tipping point in the geography of talent as housing prices continue to rise in superstar cities, while metros in once talent-lagging parts of the country capitalize on the significant cost advantages and quality of life they have to offer.”

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