If we are to build cities based in the so-called knowledge economy, one of the primary methods for judging its success should be very familiar: net exports.
In culture, ideas, concepts, general intellectual capital and, yes, even businesses and organizations, it may be worth questioning whether your city is mostly taking from others or mostly giving to others. Indeed, one wouldn’t only want to export knowledge — we always want to take ideas from others to get better — but a good sign of the success of a healthy region is the clustering of smart, creative people and their creating ideas, projects, businesses, ideas that are worth being shared elsewhere.
A sign of American industrial might was that those products that we made were desired elsewhere, so if we’re going to build economies on ideas, we surely ought to create ideas that are desired elsewhere too. (It helps to have a powerful regional GDP by traditional standards too, but this is likely a different conversation)
The 16,000 new, college-educated 25 to 34 year-olds that moved to Philadelphia between 2000 and 2009 were a compelling quantifiable way to suggest that a new generation is choosing this place, though many factors went into that figure. If Boston and NYC were the only cities that welcomed more such young people, it’s worth noting that those two cities are often heralded for the ideas that begin there — ideas like investment funds and startup jobs fairs.
Welcoming the world’s best ideas is part of what makes a smarter, more cosmopolitan, more competitive global city, but if bringing in an event or a business or an art form to your city is worth something, creating something that others around the world emulate has to be worth much more. In the end, we all want to make the world (and our world, specifically) a better place, so sharing is invaluable, and each successful knowledge export is a way to attract and retain more smart people to do the whole process over again.
Industrial economies developed in clusters too — RIP Philadelphia’s Workshop of the World along its riverwards.
So if you’re passionate about improving your city and making it more competitive now and in the future, importing can help, but what ideas are you working on exporting?